Sport

Danny Hughes: Onus should be on managers to change the GAA's rules

Donegal's win over a seemingly unbeatable Dublin in 2014 is one example of how top coaches can influence results in a major way

GAELIC football doesn’t have a rules problem. Gaelic football, unlike hurling, has an identity problem.

Football has become too many things to too many people. We want defensive systems, we don’t want defensive system. We want more high fielding, but we don’t want the game to slow down. We want more scores, but we want great defending.

My idea of a good game of football is different to that of, say, Jim McGuinness.

I still live in the fantasy land of Derry v Down in 1994 and Kerry v Mayo in 2014 in Limerick. Pure spectacles from an attacking perspective.

Does that mean that Jim and I can live in harmony and appreciate the game for what it is? Of course we can.

We may fundamentally differ in terms of how to coach a team, but we can appreciate the fact that his approach got him success at the highest level, while mine is completely untested. And for this reason, Jim wins the argument.

However, it is pundits like me and other individuals – untested from a coaching perspective – who are, in effect, fundamentally changing the rules of how Gaelic football is played.

I may not have influenced in any way the recent rule changes which will be trialled in 2019, but if I had held any influence on a committee over rule changes,

I would have introduced the sum total of nil. Why? Because the game does not need more rules.

It needs practical changes, such as a ‘hooter’ system for half-time and full-time, with the proper allocated injury-time, of course.

It needs retrospective policing of suspensions for those players who feign injury or take a dive.

It even perhaps needs a second referee at county level – as the stakes are that high.

I have read some of the proposed rules changes which are set to be trialled in the pre-season tournaments and in the League.

Soft changes like the sin-bin are not life-changing in how we will play the game, but the handpass is a big deal.

So too is the ‘mark’ for anyone securing a pass over 20 metres inside the 45-metre line.

Good luck with introducing that at club level – the referees will need the spray cans and a tape measure as well as their whistle for games at this level if introduced.

If teams are being overly-negative, too defensive, like they can be in every other team sport in the world, the better team will end up playing around the negative tactics and winning in a certain way.

They said that Pep Guardiola fundamentally changed football and how the game is played.

Even Pep found this statement outlandish, to be fair, and coming from the Johan Cruyff school, he came into the Barcelona role with a philosophy, never deviating or changing his methods in how he wanted and expected his teams to play.

You could say that the dominance of this current Dublin team is comparable, in a Gaelic football context, to that particular Barcelona team which Pep presided over.

Pep has taken that trusted philosophy and created what appears to be an almost invincible Man City team.

But it wasn’t always like this – even Pep in his first season did not win the Premier League.

Likewise, in last year’s Champions League, Man City exited to a Liverpool team who were worthy winners over two legs.

So winner or not, pragmatist or romantic, Guardiola and his teams are not without their faults or disappointments. The same goes for Dublin.

Part of me feels that too many people are trying to change the game to suit themselves.

Gaelic football has a philosophy problem and this predominantly lies within the management field and with those who appoint them.

The problem is that coaches and managers are (a) reluctant (b) unable and (c) unaware that they even need a philosophy.

If their philosophy is a defensive one then they should prepare to fail when meeting teams like Dublin, who are superior from an offensive perspective.

To beat the best teams offensively, you need to train offensively.

Setting up to defend your way to success may work once, but consistently? You may want to re-think that one.

What McGuinness brilliantly devised was a tactical strategy which no-one else dared contemplate never mind enact – that was Donegal’s tactics in winning the 2012 All-Ireland title.

Aside from a few Ulster titles [which Donegal may or may not have won anyway], this tactic has not won any team an

All-Ireland since.

This worked for Donegal and McGuinness because it was a ‘shock and awe’ tactic of sorts.

Because coaches and managers are unwilling to take the time and develop a set of players to play ‘total football’, they will attempt to use a quick fix and somehow hope that they can take a scalp.

It takes time and patience to stick with players who are upskilling.

Kicking off weaker legs, practising frees from the ground and developing a team’s running ability all take seasons to perfect – seasons which the ‘hiring and firing’ culture at club and county level does not afford nowadays.

Managers and coaches are not prepared for the hard yards and many won’t accept that their tenure will leave teams in a much better state of success when they move on.

Would there have been a Jim Gavin had Pat Gilroy not punched in the ‘hard yards’? Would James McCartan have had the impact in my era with Down had Ross Carr and DJ Kane not performed sterling work beforehand?

Success has many fathers.

The implementation of these various rules – too many at one time for a start – is changing the game and taking change out of the hands of those who should be changing it. Namely, the coaches/ managers.

It is handing the power to men in suits, handing the power to boardroom people, men we do not know or perhaps have nothing in common with.

It’s by accident maybe, but nonetheless this is a problem which we have created – or should I say coaches and managers have created. And they are the only ones who can now get us out of it.

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