Rory Gallagher: "I don't think you're ever going to see the contests that people want"
Having branded the proposed rule changes as ‘ludicrous' last week, Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher saw his side and Tyrone share just four points in the first half of their game last Wednesday. Cahair O'Kane took the chance to challenge his views after the game
Cahair O'Kane: Is there not an argument that rule changes are being trialled to bring the game forward, not take it backwards?
Rory Gallagher: “I accept people want to bring the game forward but there was a lot of loose information. It’s easy to say numbers [of spectators] were down this year – the games were more condensed, families only have so much money to spread out over a period of time. The hurling is on, which is the top 10 counties are playing each other. If you’ve a choice of going to a game or sitting in watching that, most people in this country follow both sports. If you look at the days of the Tyrone-Armagh crowds going to Croke Park in the 2000s are long gone. I know the economy’s picked up but that surplus of money to continue to go to Dublin is not there. I remember living in Dublin and there being 75,000 at a first round championship match because they were starved of success. I don’t think the thing is as poor as some think it is. I don’t think you’re ever going to see the contests that people want. One of the great successes has been Cluxton and Beggan and Morgan and the short, innovative kickouts, that you don’t just have to have a big midfielder. Small changes, but not something as drastic."
CO'K: On the throw-in, your entire 15 men were back inside their own 45’ inside 20 seconds…
RG: “Why do teams start to bring men back? It was because of the advancement of attacking half-backs and corner-backs. What’s a team supposed to do, let their men go? Tyrone are a very attacking team despite the perception of them. To me, they’d four or five defenders playing that all they want to do is go forward. They’re attacking players. It’s just the way the game’s evolved. Look at soccer, American football – when the other team has the ball, you do everything you can to stop them scoring. I accept there are different ways and I’m not saying the model we had tonight is the right model.”
CO'K: What rule changes would you make?
RG: “I accept the handpassing but I feel maybe something where you can’t bring the ball back into your own 45’, a simple rule change like that which makes it easier for the team having to press the ball. It’s a big pitch and it’s impossible to chase the ball down after 52 or 53 minutes of a game, with the intensity the games are played at. It’s impossible. The other thing I’ll say is I don’t think the game’s in as bad a state as some think it is. There was a pre-championship launch last year, Benny Tierney was at it and saying about Fermanagh-Armagh in 1994 and it was 1-6 to 0-6. Fermanagh supporters have seen a lot of dark days. There were a lot of low-scoring games. A little bit too much is made of it."
CO'K: A decision is due next weekend on the new rules, how do you see it going?
RG: “My understanding from the players is that there’s a huge onus on the GPA to represent them. We all accept the game’s not run by the players but 96 per cent [of players against the handpass rule] is a strong amount of people. I see a lot about how many county players are opting out, I played for Fermanagh and I opted out. There’s loads of players opted out for different periods. People have a freedom of choice, it doesn’t mean they’re fed up with the regime of county football. We be out on a Tuesday and Thursday night, the boys go to the gym themselves. They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t enjoy it. The reality inside the dressing room is that players and managers feel it’s a nonsensical rule, and you feel there’s no way in the world it could go through. So you take your chances. We could be wrong and have to adapt to it, but we’re aware of it. As you can see from the amount we got blown we’re not very good at it. We’ll have to adapt."
CO'K: The average annual turnover per county panel is 7 or 8 players over the last decade, that’s huge?
RG: “Yeah, but there’s so much out there in the world now. There are so many options to travel abroad. One time I was the only kid in my house lived abroad, now my sister’s moving to New York and another sister lives in Australia. It’s not just girls travel, everyone has a freedom of choice. Ronan went to Australia for a year. I’m only talking my own family. That’s just the way of the world now. I don’t think that’s opting out, that’s people just wanting to do different things. I was involved with Donegal and Odhran MacNiallais wanted to go to America for a summer, Eoin McHugh wanted to go for a summer. They’re going and playing football, they’re going and enjoying it and coming back and getting engaged with the county team again."
CO'K: Does that not feed back into the debate about the style and standard – if it’s not enjoyable or competitive, it’s easier to opt out?
RG: “I don’t know if it’s easier. I think it’s a lifestyle choice. People want to go. The fundamental question is why do teams sometimes play the way they do? They might feel it’s their best chance of being competitive. They might feel in a traditional man-for-man…look at Fermanagh, for example, from 1983 until 1999 they only won two championship matches, both against Antrim. Things have changed. They’re far from a dominant force but they’re now competitive. Go back to the famous Donegal-Dublin game in 2011. Donegal had just won their first Ulster title being really hard working, and perceived as defensive. Dublin had put 23 points on Tyrone, who Donegal laboured and were lucky to beat. It was a style of play chosen for a day to give themselves the best chance of a result. If things had gone right, they could have won that day. Teams have a right to feel ‘if we’re not good enough to mark him, we’ll go at it another way’."
CO'K: Do you then accept, though, that it’s a big factor in why attendances are dropping? You say last year but the trend’s over the last 10 years...
RG: “I work in retail and spending was down over the last 10 years. Foreign holidays were down, new car sales were down. I think it is relevant. Maybe it’s the pricing structure. I watch a lot of sport on TV, you look at college sport in America and it’s maybe $20 or $30 in, which isn’t a lot in America. Maybe you have to look at the pricing structure. I accept there are boring games, but I was at a lot of boring games in the past. What was the score in the Enniskillen Gaels’ club final, 0-9 to 0-8? Slaughtneil won one 0-12 to 0-8, they’re seen as a free-flowing team. It’s not always big scores. The other thing is, watch American sports, ‘defending’ is not a dirty word. Some teams might be better at defending than attacking.”