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Kicking Out: Let's call time on practice of running down the clock

Of the last 12 minutes in Down's win over Monaghan, the ball was in play for just over a third of the time.

IN this age of the smartphone, scientists say that a human’s attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish.

Research undertaken in Canada in 2015 studied the behaviour of 2,000 human participants and student the brain activity of 112 others using electrophysiological technology.

When the handheld revolution began around 2000, the average attention span had already fallen to 12 seconds. By 2015, it was down to eight – a second less than a goldfish.

79 per cent of the people involved in the study said that they regularly ‘dual screen’ – ie use their phone while watching television.

We’ve all done it. I sat down recently to watch the Amanda Knox documentary on Netflix and realised ten minutes in that I had no idea what had happened and had to rewind it back to the start.

We are living in a time of absolute distraction. People can do nothing without a phone in their hand. They can’t drive, they can’t eat, they can’t go to the toilet, they can’t go to sleep without that last look at Facebook.

Sport, therefore, has a battle on its hands.

Last week saw soccer’s International Football Association Board announce a raft of radical proposals that could change the face of the sport forever.

At the top of the agenda was the length of the game itself. Instead of 90 minutes, they are suggesting shortening the game to 60 minutes and stopping the clock when the ball is dead, as in rugby.

The reasoning behind it is very simple. Research shows that the ball is only in play for an average of 60 minutes in a 90-minute game. The rest of it is taken up by stoppages and time-wasting.

Despite the colossal sums of money involved in their most recent deal with Sky and BT, the English Premiership’s television viewership figures have plummeted in recent seasons.

While there are external factors such as the amount of unregulated online streams available, the governing bodies are acknowledging that they have a problem.

Gaelic football has a similar problem, albeit slightly different.

70 minutes can seem like a month when it’s Dublin and Westmeath you’re watching. Shortening the game to 25 minutes would hardly have been enough to solve that one.

But in an event like the brilliant finish to Down and Monaghan on Saturday, the final few minutes can’t go on long enough.

When is a minute not a minute, though?

Take Down’s two Championship games so far this year.

Including injury-time, from the 65th minute onwards against Armagh and Monaghan there have been a total of 28 minutes and 11 seconds run up on the referees’ watches.

Of all that time, the ball has been in play for just 8 minutes and 49 seconds.

Almost 70 per cent of that time has been wasted.

Between wrestling matches, subs, delaying kickouts and genuine injuries (Kevin McKernan v Armagh), the final moments of those games have been chopped in bits.

Monaghan would have been fortunate to leave Armagh on Saturday evening with even a replay but when Kieran Hughes swung over a brilliant score to narrow the gap back to one, there were just over 65 minutes played.

Paddy Neilan’s final whistle would sound of 75:59 with the only score in the intervening period coming from Down’s Donal O’Hare.

Yet of the last 11 minutes and 59 seconds, the ball was in play for just over a third of the time - 4 minutes and 31 seconds, to be exact.

You can take nothing away from the brilliant defensive effort of the red and black shirts. They did what had to be done and what any smart team would do. They killed the game.

But it’s a reality in Gaelic football that the timekeeping system is heavily weighted in favour of the team that is leading.

There’s a lack of regulation around the whole area. I’ve suffered from it myself, having two kickouts hopped this season despite having had the ball out on the tee within three or four seconds of the ball going dead.

The referee then punishes hesitation in actual delivering the kickout, yet a goalkeeper can walk around for 20 seconds before lifting a ball, walk to the 13’ and walk back to start his run-up without a word being said.

Delaying the kickout and the inconsistency in dealing with it is a common issue but a growing problem is also the sheer volume of wrestling matches that break out in the final few minutes of a game.

That’s forever been a tactic of the team leading a game. It stands to sense. Annoy a rattled team, suck them into a row, maybe get a man lined and break any momentum they might have had.

There is nothing to lose from starting a schemozzle when you’re winning, and everything to gain.

The other side never gets the time back. Ever.

The average ball-in-play time has increased in recent years having dipped as low as 34 minutes and 38 seconds during the Championship in 2011.

In Tyrone’s win over Donegal last week, the ball was in play for 45 minutes. But that’s still almost half an hour of the 70 minutes plus stoppage time that is wasted.

It doesn’t matter how much time is wasted when one team wins by ten points.

But when it comes down to losing two-thirds of the crucial portion of a one- or two-point game to time-wasting then it is time to look at the fairness of the current timekeeping system.

Shorten the length of the game and take timekeeping out of the overworked referee’s hands and those dramatic finales will be a fair fist fight, rather than being dictated by an unfair one.

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