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Joe Kernan: Coaches must be allowed to maximise their options


Kevin McManamon's spectacular contribution to Dublin's All-Ireland triumph underlined the importance of the squad system

Kevin McManamon's spectacular contribution to Dublin's All-Ireland triumph underlined the importance of the squad system

©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Kevin McManamon's spectacular contribution to Dublin's All-Ireland triumph underlined the importance of the squad system

Over the course of the last five years there has been considerable tampering with the playing rules as they apply to gaelic football.

In tandem with this, there has also been what I can only describe as an inordinate amount of tweaking, amending and modifying of regulations governing the actual staging of matches and in particular major championship ties.

Not surprisingly, many people are now confused as to what currently applies and what does not apply in relation to various aspects of the sport.

Indeed, there is a danger that we could be going down the road of change for the sake of change and that’s something that could prove damaging to both the ethos and image of gaelic football.

But a particular proposal which has surfaced just this week does in my view contain a lot of merit and should be formally adopted by the GAA authorities as soon as is expedient.

The proposal comes from the ever-active Gaelic Players Association and calls for the restoration of 30-man match-day panels for major inter-county championship fixtures as opposed to the 26-man ruling that currently applies.

This is an issue about which a lot of managers feel very strongly. They argue that having a squad of perhaps 30-plus players together for the year and then having to make culls on match days, thus disappointing members of their panels by informing them that they are surplus to requirements for games, puts them in an invidious position.

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If anything, this is an insult to such players who invariably give everything in training from the start of January until their team exits the All-Ireland championship.

Because of the commitment such players give, I believe they are entitled to have their names on match programmes, be part of the official match party and become fully immersed in all aspects of match preparation and planning even though they may not get the chance to parade their skills out on the park.

A manager can only pick 15 players but as has been shown so often this season in particular the impact that substitutes can make is tremendous.

As things stand, a team boss can use a maximum of five substitutes from the 11 players he will have togged out and on duty in addition to his starting 15. But I heartily endorse the GPA proposal that match-day squads should be increased to 30 meaning that all players would feel part of the proceedings and the manager would then be assured of cover for every position on the field.

There are suspicions that the 26-man policy was adopted so that county boards could be spared the expense incurred in accommodating four extra players and there is even the suggestion that a 30-man panel for a match could be ‘unwieldy’.

I beg to differ. Every manager in the country is desperately anxious to keep morale high and minimise the risk of player disenchantment — and the best way to achieve this is by nurturing an all for one and one for all policy.

There is no doubt that the more selection options a manager has from the bench the stronger his hand will be.

The player who undoubtedly made the biggest impact as a substitute this year by a country mile was Dublin’s Kevin McMenamon — and, let’s be honest, he would walk onto the vast majority of county teams.

Indeed, it was a surprise that he did not start against Kerry last month.

Managers are now reluctant to allow a player who has incurred a yellow card to remain on the field — Cathal McCarron, for instance, was quickly whipped off by Mickey Harte in the Tyrone v Monaghan Ulster championship tie in June when he transgressed.

And this is where managers must have maximum options at their disposal. They are faced with the task of making instant decisions that could determine the progress their team will make and they must get such decisions right.

The Gaelic Players Association has in the past been regarded by some GAA officials as a radical body but it is far from that.

Indeed, since it formed a closer liaison with the GAA, it has gone from strength to strength. And its courage and vision in urging the restoration of 30-man county match-day squads is a further manifestation of this strength.

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