Fewer scores, more roars - stop acting and bring back the big hits to Gaelic football

Kenny Archer

Kenny Archer

Kenny is the deputy sports editor and a Liverpool FC fan.

Supporters want to see physicality when teams meet in the senior football championship.
Supporters want to see physicality when teams meet in the senior football championship. Supporters want to see physicality when teams meet in the senior football championship.

IN at least one sense, the modern game of Gaelic football is better: there are more scores than before. (That’s not necessarily better, at least not in this columnist’s opinion, as it can be too easy to score in certain games, but that’s another matter).

With all those extra goals and points, there’s plenty for supporters to cheer about.

Yet there are also many significant longueurs, passages of ‘play’ that consist merely of extended bouts of hand-passing, often sideways, sometimes backwards, as the team in possession probes for gaps through a packed opposition defensive structure.

Those can be duller than watching paint dry on the dressing room wall during a Tottenham Hotspur team talk.

It is true that nothing beats being there. Games are better in the flesh.

Twitter had its share of complaints about the lack of quality on show in the first half of Sunday’s Division Two Final between Derry and Dublin.

However, as an interested observer (I was covering the Division One decider), it was still decent viewing, watching the tactical manoeuvres and the off-the-ball runs that TV rarely captures.

Still, although goals and great scores will almost always provoke the loudest cheers, fans also want to see the big hits.

One of the biggest roars, because it came from both sets of supporters, was when two players met in a crunching collision.

It was near the halfway line, and near the Hogan Stand side-line, so it was far from a key moment in the game – but the crowd still loved it.

Sadly, those big hits are what the modern game is missing more and more – or less and less.

Players don’t carry the ball into contact, for fear of losing possession and being barracked by their manager, team-mates, and supporters.

Rarer still is a ball kicked to man who is being challenged.

If you lunge in, you’re liable to leave a gap, the ball will go in behind you, either carried, hand-passed or even – yes! – kicked, and the result could be a score, either from a free or even put over or under the bar.

Keeping shape is hugely important.

I’ve lost count of the number of photographs we receive where an opponent is running closely by the man on the ball, not even thinking about challenging him, focussed instead on getting back into position.

Kicking a ball with a less than 75 per cent chance of it reaching a team-mate is severely frowned upon.

So the opportunities for players to physically compete for the ball are several limited, even compared to 20 years ago.

This is not a plea for a return to the days of ‘catch and kick’.

The tactical development of Gaelic football and hurling has been fascinating to see.

However, physicality can still have its place in the games, but it needs the right approach from both players and match officials.

In truth, there’s no real issue about declining physicality in hurling.

In football, though, there’s an increasing trend for players to make any physical contact appear to be a foul.

Players need to cop on and stop pretending they’ve been struck in the face, going down clutching their nose after being on the receiving end of a hefty challenge.

We get that it’s sore. We get that you’re hurt.

But attempting to get an opponent sent off is a low act.

Players know all the time and effort put into preparing for a Championship game, so no one should be dismissed from the pitch unless they absolutely deserve that fate.

It’s a tough ask for referees to ‘police’ these matters accurately. Often such controversial incidents happen behind their backs, perhaps even in the other half of the pitch from where the ball is.

Linesmen and umpires could be much more helpful, by actually telling the referee what they witnessed, rather than standing silently with their arms folded, shaking their head.

The misplaced sense of machismo must be eradicated, the wrong-headed concept of ‘a fair dig’.

Leave the boxing for the club fundraisers.

The authorities can give the greatest assistance of all.

Send out the message that feigning injury will be punished in all cases

Rule 5.4 already states that ‘To attempt to achieve an advantage by feigning a foul or injury’ is a Category 1 offence, which should result in a caution (yellow card).

Maybe play-acting should be added to the list of Category III offences, those Cynical Behaviour Infractions which warrant a black card and 10 minutes in the sin-bin.

If the simulation is not spotted during the match, some form of retrospective punishment should be applied. Perhaps a yellow card added to the player’s record, or a ruling made that they cannot start the next match, although they would still be available for selection.

There’s even an argument that such play-acting should come under ‘Misconduct Considered to have Discredited the Association’, which results in a minimum 8-week suspension.

The Rules would need to be altered to implement such punishments, of course.

For now, though, referees need to start handing out yellow cards to the play-acters, not just wagging a finger at them and telling them to get up.

There are cameras at almost every game. Videos are shared between counties for the purposes of tactical analysis; they should be routinely and automatically shared with the provincial and central councils.

Just as play-acting should be punished, so should thuggery.

Physicality still must have its proper place, though.

Referees should be encouraged to recognise the fine art of the fair shoulder.

Players are scared to tackle the ball nowadays because too often referees penalise them incorrectly.

It’s quite right that match officials are on the look-out for dangerous charges/ barges, from the front or back, which can cause head or neck injuries.

Yet they should also be able to see when a player has met an opponent shoulder to shoulder.

If we can have a Championship of fewer scores (because of more tackles) but more roars (greeting big hits), then this could be a very good year.