Joe Kernan: McGee can point the way forward
It is said that a new broom sweeps clean. And Liam O’Neill, who has just been installed as GAA president, is certainly making his mark as he settles into the top office.
For many years the Laois man has served the Association in a variety of ways, not least as a diligent and hard-working president of the Leinster Council.
His ability to lead the Association was recognised some time ago and it became only a formality for him to succeed Christy Cooney.
Over the course of the past year, during which he attended many functions and events in his role as president-elect, Liam made it quite clear that he would put his own stamp on things when he finally came to occupy the hot seat.
To date, he has been as good as his word. He has already indicated that he will be launching a number of initiatives and is strongly focused on encouraging younger people to play a more visible role in the administration of the GAA.
And, in forming a series of new committees at Croke Park, Liam has clearly shown where his priorities lie.
One of his most commendable steps in my view was to appoint a special committee to look at the way in which gaelic football is played and where it is going.
This decision is hardly surprising given that Liam himself has labelled some aspects of football as it is played right now as “boring”.
Former Offaly All-Ireland winning manager Eugene McGee, a man who has spent a lifetime within the sport, will chair this committee and I for one will await its findings with particular interest.
McGee formerly owned the ‘Longford Leader’ and is a well-known columnist with an Irish daily newspaper.
Thus he is not only familiar with all aspects of gaelic football but is aware of the huge role which the media currently plays not just in articulating views within the Association but in actually helping to fashion thinking at different levels such is its impact in society in general.
I have no doubt that McGee, a man who is known to call a spade a shovel, will have his own very definite ideas on just what direction he would like to see gaelic football take. There are two elements of the game that I feel merit consideration by Eugene and his committee.
One is what appears to be an obsession with lateral passing and the other is the ongoing commitment to a blanket defence.
As recently as last Sunday in both the Tyrone v Kildare and Mayo v Cork games at Croke Park we were treated — if that is the right word — to an over-abundance of fisted passes and hand-passes which, to my mind, served to detract from the entertainment quality of both games.
I know that possession is nine-tenths of the law but a slavish adherence to short, largely meaningless passes to my mind inculcates boredom and frustration.
I have studied the great Kerry teams of the 70’s and 80’s as well as the hugely successful Meath side of the late 80’s and the powerful Dublin side of the 70’s and I have come to the conclusion that they had one thing in common — their whole focus appeared to be on getting the ball quickly into their full-forward line.
It was this quality of service, provided largely through the medium of kicked passes, that ultimately elevated players such as Colm O’Rourke, Brian Stafford, Eoin ‘Bomber’ Liston,
Pat Spillane, Jimmy Keaveny and the late John Egan to legendary status.
That is not in any way to decry our current crop of players. It was very obvious that when Tyrone’s Stephen O’Neill and Owen Mulligan were plied with quick, accurate possession on Sunday, they had the measure of the Lilywhites rearguard.
Indeed, it was from one smartly-delivered long-range kicked pass that O’Neill effected a great catch, swivelled and shot only to see his effort go outside the post.
Paddy Bradley, Benny Coulter, Tommy Freeman, Jamie Clarke, Seamus Quigley and Paddy Cunningham are among the leading Ulster forwards who can prove match-winners if they are given a reasonable service.
With the championship just around the corner, I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will not be burdened by claustrophobic safety-first tactics.
When Donegal hosted Antrim in the Ulster championship opener last year, it proved one of the most tedious, insipid games of the year simply because of the north west team’s obsession with a convoluted defensive mechanism – and they were at home too.
Sadly, this tie set the tone for much of the fare that we subsequently witnessed in the championship and I think it can be taken as read that, in a biting recession, people will not continue to part with their money if this is what will be on offer.
If Eugene McGee and his committee can bring about changes for the better, they will have rendered the GAA an invaluable service.