Gaelic Football bogged down by “slow, cautious play” and change is coming says Croke Park chief Tom Ryan

Cautious play and massed defences curbing enthusiasm for supporters and players

Ronan McNamee hopes Tyrone can make some progress in the All-Ireland series after losing to Monaghan in Ulster
No way through: Massed defences are commonplace in Gaelic Football now

GAELIC Football has been bogged down by “slow, deliberate and cautious play” says GAA Director General Tom Ryan in his Annual Report.

Ryan has confirmed that a working group to devise potentially dramatic rule changes to the game is to be up-and-running before the end of the county season.

At the publication of his annual report, Ryan referred to some of the enjoyable games he had watched over the last inter-county and club football championships but he said the GAA couldn’t “pretend there aren’t issues” in the game which need to be addressed.

“Many games are characterised by slow, deliberate and cautious play and are dominated by massed defences,” wrote Ryan in his report.

“We’ve arrived at a place where the game is devoid of risk-taking and individual instances of skill are at a premium. Yet these are the very things that foster in us all our initial love of the game.”

A study has been carried out over 12 years (2011 to 2023) across 500 games of football focussing on classifying the “key metrics” of the game are including kickouts, where shots are taken from and the ratio of handpasses to kick-passes.

When all the data from the study has been collated a working group will begin the process of translating analysis into proposals to address the issues they see in the game.

(left to right) GAA director general Tom Ryan and Peter McKenna, chief commercial officer of the GAA, after appearing before committee (Niall Carson/PA)
GAA Director General Tom Ryan says change is in the air for Gaelic Football

Ryan said the study had identified that there was a need “to promote enjoyment of the game for the people who are watching it and also the people who are playing it”.

The key components of football that will foster that enjoyment are “about contests and taking risks” and Ryan said there were “eight-to-10 specific ideas” for rule changes in the works.

None of them will go to Congress this year but they will proceed to a trial period and new rules could include restrictions on the position of players, enforcing a minimum number of players in a certain area of the pitch (perhaps inside the opposition 45-metre line) and a new law making it illegal to pass the ball back over the 20-metre line when it has gone beyond it.

Data shows that the number of scores in inter-county games is going up but Ryan said the raw statistics hid an underlying issue surrounding predictability and the absence of the aforementioned risk-taking in the game. Scores are going up but when you analyse where the on the pitch the ball is being kicked from, he explained, it is apparent that teams are slavishly holding onto possession for longer periods to work the same type of shooting opportunities.

Meanwhile, analysis was also carried out into hurling but Ryan said the GAA did not have the same concerns over the caman code.

“Hurling is in a good place,” he said.

The issue for hurling is off the pitch and Ryan said the emphasis was on spreading and growing the game to encourage more players and more clubs. He added that he struggled to see a new county emerging to challenge the current powerhouses of the game.