GAA Football

Off the Fence: What if there was no clock to run down?

What if the GAA removed the clock in the final minutes of games and set a score target? Picture by Seamus Loughran

SUNDAY evenings meant two things in the O’Kane household: Nutella sandwiches and wildlife programmes on BBC2.

The image of a lion chasing down a gazelle and leaping on it in the middle of the Serengeti was always the most striking.

That’s kind of how the end of last year’s All-Ireland final looked. Dean Rock’s free nestling on the Canal End ball-catcher was the starting gun for the rare blue lions. They leapt and feasted on the unsuspecting green and red gazelles, pinning them down.

Ranger McQuillan managed to rip Ciaran Kilkenny off with his trusty black card but the rest got away with it. And ever since, they’ve been feasting on three All-Irelands in a row.

We’ve heard enough about it since but nobody has yet come up with a workable solution. ‘Malachy from Monaghan’ is in favour of robbing an idea from an NBA trial and, instead of the clock turning red, it gets turned off.

“As we begin to move into championship season, we can look forward to many more games winding down with time wasting, pulling and dragging, and cynical fouling (as in last years All-Ireland final with three Mayo defenders dragged to the ground). What about an alternative way to end games that incentivised teams to play open, attacking football rather than trying to ‘close out the game’?

“At present there is a greater incentive to take a card for the team and give away free kicks in order to waste time, than try to score if a team is defending a lead. The introduction of the black card may have reduced this incentive a little, but it is still prevalent. A more radical approach might be to take away the incentive to waste time altogether. What if time was no longer a limiting factor in the game?

”To do this I suggest that rather than the second-half consist of 35 minutes plus injury time, it should instead consist of 30 minutes and then the clock be turned off. At this point a target score is set for both teams, with the winner being the team to reach the target score first. This target score could be set at three points (or a goal) more the leading team’s score at that point.

“For example if the score is 0-14 to 0-10, then the first team to reach or exceed 0-17 is the winner. This will have the effect of ensuring teams must continue to attack in order to win the game, they cannot merely sit back and defend a lead. If there is only one minute left to play then being booked or sent off is of little consequence if it stops the other team from attacking. However if the player doesn’t know how much time there is left to play then he may be less inclined to be sent off.

“It will also negate time wasting as there is now no incentive to do so. It will leave the end exciting for fans as a game will always finish with a score. There will also be reduced fixture congestion as there will always be a winner, therefore no need for replays (although the administrators may not like the reduction in rematch revenues). It will also reduce the pressure on referees with regard to the amount of injury time that is played.

”A version of this method of ending games called the Elam Ending has already been trialled in basketball by the NBA in America showing a reduction in tactical fouling and more time being spent actually playing the game. Any thoughts or suggested improvements?”

CO’K: It is a novel idea and one of the best and most inventive that I’ve seen suggested anywhere. Flaws are not evident. I’d still persist with the black cards as well, and ensure that the final few minutes of a game are played in the same manner as the rest of it.


The big topic this week has been the idea of foreign training camps rearing their head once more, with both Armagh footballers and Wexford hurlers at the forefront after heading to Portugal.

They returned with a nice bronze off them and it might all stand to them come summer, but they could well pay the price at the start of next year if the GAA robs them of one of their home National League games.

That’s the punishment for a training camp outside the 10-day window before championship and there are so many counties in potential bother that the GAA might have to just play the entire League schedule on neutral ground.

‘Ryan’ is not happy.

“When the GAA wont leave county teams and the managers alone when they plan heading away for warm training camps, they’re not much good. Really like to know when GAA expects teams to have a free date in their dairy. If both Armagh and Wexford are to lose home game next year it’d be a joke.”

CO’K: They have 13 free dates in their diary the fortnight before a championship game.


Last week’s Off The Fence created a bit of a stir, with Stephen’s letter about Ulster rugby attracting a number of responses on either side. He feels it’s hard to stand up for the Ulstermen when they’ve half turned into Leinster reserves.

It’s been another strange week, with the announcement of Dan McFarland as the new coach with an absolute lack of clarity on when he will take over. In the interests of balance, we’ll take ‘Bill’s submission.

“Stephen finds it hard to stand up for the Ulstermen. Irish rugby provinces are in the enviable position of not being subservient to an 'owner' as is usually the case in France and England. The Ireland team comes first and most rugby people support that. The four provinces are wholly owned constituents of the IRFU and it is the international team that is the financial bedrock of Irish rugby.

“The playing strength of the provinces directly reflects playing population except when skewed by foreign imports. Leinster is grateful for the contributions of Rocky Elsom, Nathan Hines, Brad Thorn and Scott Fardy for adding winning grunt to the forwards, which resulted so far in three stars in Europe.

”Ulster is well known for the South Africa connection and the point on Ruan Pienaar is well made. However, replacement John Cooney is arguably a better player at this time and we would not have seen that if Pienaar was still in Belfast. I agree on the inappropriateness of the sacking of two players but rather than whinge, I wrote to Phil Orr at the IRFU in support of the integrity of the Criminal Law System, obviously without success.

”Stephen should also consider the Ulster Bank League tables at the end of another season. My team Lansdowne did not travel to Ulster this season because there were no Ulster teams in Division 1A. I hope this changes soon. Leinster is packed with rugby talent at present. The crowd in the Kingspan would likely prefer to win with ex-blues rather than continue to lose. Are Ulster Blues less worthy of being stood for than Ulster Boks? I don't think so.

”I attend Lansdowne nearly every week and Kingspan Ravenhill about three times per season and watch Ulster on BBC to enjoy Stephen Ferris [you’ll have to get Premier Sports in]. Isn't it great that you can get good players from 100 miles away rather than the High Veldt!”


Finally, there was a bit of love for the sports team this week, especially Brendan Crossan after his epic two-part read with the wonderfully raw and honest Terence McNaughton.

‘Seamus’ perhaps summed it up best: “Star quality writing today Brendan. One of those pieces that makes me say ‘wish I’d written that.’”

‘Noel’ also dropped us a line after reading Kicking Out on Tuesday: “I really enjoyed reading his article in today's paper. Excellent account of the Trojan efforts exerted by rural clubs. You can tell Cahair that mine was one of the 100,000 doors rapped by Loup's foot-soldiers. I duly signed up (ten quid I think) but regrettably didn't win anything. My Armagh wife states that it is a condition entirely appropriate for a Fermanagh GAA man!”

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