Colm Parkinson: My simple solution to bring the enjoyment back into watching football
"There's something unnaturally frustrating about getting a ball in a championship game and not being able to hit a pass or execute what you see in your head. You can deal with that happening a few times or even for a few games, but over time if you're repeatedly blocked up, caught up, short of options, playing sideways, seeing opportunities but not being able to execute for congestion or lack of awareness, it gets irritating" - Paul Galvin, Sunday Times.
On arriving back from Omagh I met a former Portlaoise manager in our restaurant, La Lola, and the conversation went like this:
Me: "I'm just back from Omagh, I’m in a hurry home to see the hurling on the Sunday game."
"What was on up in Omagh?"
Me: "Are you serious? The Tyrone-Monaghan game."
"Oh right, what was that like? Shite, I'd say."
Me: 'No it wasn't too bad, it opened up in the second half a bit and there were some good scores."
"Well if it was anything like that shite in Casltebar last weekend... That's not football, Wooly."
I laughed and went on my way, but I started thinking that the RTE pundits complaining about the state of the game all the time have an audience. My former manager and Paul Galvin are not old-timers and wouldn’t be easily influenced by pundits opinions, but both seem to have lost interest in the game.
The match in Castlebar was not the same Gaelic football I grew up playing and watching. In Brewster Park, it was also poor stuff with two sweepers used by Fermanagh. In Omagh, Tyrone used two sweepers in the first half and both teams dropped 12, 13 and 14 men behind the ball when defending. Waterford dropped lots of bodies behind the ball too, and we know how Carlow set up against Louth.
We're told that this is the modern game. We're told that the game is evolving. But where is it evolving to is the question? And how long do we have to wait for it to evolve away from packed defences, if ever?
Defensive systems make one of the main skills in the game redundant - kicking. As Tomas O’Se so bluntly put it to Des Cahill one night, "It’s called football Des."
With defensive systems, we see a lot of sideways handpassing around the 45 outside the oppositions defensive shield.
For me, this is not entertaining in any way. Most importantly, I don’t believe players enjoy it either. One of the drills we hated with Laois, Portlaoise, Parnells, or any team I’ve ever played on, was handpassing games.
Now, some people say they enjoy this type of football. So really, it’s a matter of taste at the end of the day. Of course, there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to taste.
My opinion is that we should always try to safeguard and promote the great skills in our game with catching and kicking being the two most important. Whether you like them or not, you can’t argue the fact that defensive systems promote handpassing at the expense of catching and kicking.
That should be enough for us to do something about it.
We hear a lot of pundits complaining about the state of the game, but not many offer solutions to safeguard its traditions and skills. One of the best pundits, Ciaran Whelan, at least offered a solution when he was bemoaning defensive systems. He suggested a 13-a-side game and it’s worth considering. However, I think the extra space will be used for athletic players and for counter-attacking and the skilful corner forward like Lee Brennan or the Gooch would become obsolete. You wouldn’t pick Lee Brennan for a seven-a-side game for those reasons.
Last year I suggested an offensive mark and I still think that's a real solution.
Colm Parkinson: There's a simple rule change that could open up defensive systems in Gaelic football https://t.co/Mg0QSuWkUe
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) August 17, 2016
This year I’m going to concentrate on another one which will safeguard the traditions of the game - naming exclusive defenders and forwards.
This is very simple.
Teams need to name four defenders and four forwards before the game and these players must stay inside their half of the field. This would keep some traditional shape on the game and reduce the packed defences. With fewer bodies back defending, we will see more catching and kicking. Teams are perfectly entitled to use their midfielders and wing forwards in a defensive capacity, but we would see less of the mass defences.
Critically, it will end the awful sight of defenders attacking from the full-back line which, for me, has helped to ruin the game as a spectacle.
At times Galway, Monaghan and Tyrone tried to leave two and three forwards in their attacking half, only for them to be dragged up the field following their men. Quite often these attacking defenders offer nothing in an attacking sense and only succeed in dragging more bodies behind the ball and add to the congestion around the 45.
We shouldn't be so slow to make changes to the playing rules. The mark was introduced and has been a massive success despite the predictable opposition to change.
I train with the Portlaoise intermediates and seniors and usually when we practice playing drills they include extra defenders because that’s what Portlaoise face most of the time. Even in training, there is no space. I wouldn’t last in the modern game because I always wanted to do something positive with the ball and make something happen. The idea that you’d work hard to get a pass and just handpass off to someone sideways or backwards is not something that appeals to me at all.
As Paul Galvin says football now has become irritating. Not only for RTE pundits, but for many players and supporters too.