Search icon


12th Sep 2018

Can we not blame a manager before declaring the death of Gaelic football?

Conan Doherty

On Sunday night, Gaelic football died again.

Slaughtneil were leading Magherafelt in the Derry championship with just over 30 minutes remaining and they watched every one of the opposition team drop off to sit in front of goals. Now, the idea of a trap is that it involves some sort of a surprise element to catch someone out but there was nothing concealed or crafty about the intentions of the Rossas who, despite trailing, were still trying to adopt a counter-attack.

So the clip went around Ireland of one of the best teams in the country basically saying piss off, happy to stand at the half way point under absolutely no pressure, winning. And, from there, the 19th death certificate of the year was issued for the game.

In a weekend where Derry hosted 14 different senior men’s championship matches, the one exception was used to finally add to the Donegal/Dublin game from eight weeks ago because then we could push for rule changes again.

I’m not against the idea of rule changes but every time someone proposes one, they have to understand that the burden of proof is on them. They’re the ones who have to prove why their suggestion would work, why there would be no problems with it, why it’s necessary in the first place and why it wouldn’t completely change the most popular sport in Ireland just for the sake of it.

As Derry club referee Brendan Quinn put it this week:

“The last three games I’ve refereed have ended 1-15 to 0-13, 3-16 to 3-8, and 5-16 to 5-9.

“Football will evolve but, please, no more new rules.”

The most naive thing about this Hogan Stand forum chat is that most of the rule changes being bandied about target the symptom, not the disease. If the problem is mass defences, why would you punish teams like Dublin or Slaughtneil for doing what they have to do to avoid being caught by mass defences? Why would you tell them they have to kick, or that they can’t go back into their own half, or they can’t pass backwards at all, or they have to shoot after a certain time? Why would you hand defences an even bigger advantage and an even greater reward for packing their own half?

And in the aftermath of Slaughtneil meeting Magherafelt’s extreme with an extreme of their own, on the very same weekend Kerins O’Rahillys came from nine points down to overcome Crokes with 3-18 and football at all levels and all age groups in all counties carried on almost as if it was still alive and well, the future of the people’s game was meanwhile being deliberated on.

Change the whole sport was yet again the reaction to an outdated tactical system yet again losing.

It’s funny; if you’ve ever had the misfortune of watching Jose Mourinho park the bus and refuse to design any game plan around the players he has, you’d notice how easily it is to find the one person actually to blame for a lot of bad games.

If you’ve seen Ireland at all in the last 10 years unwilling to do anything to win any game outside of waiting for the off-chance that a mistake might lead to a goal, you should know that there is another element in control of those slugfests, not the rules.

But when Manchester United don’t play the United way and when Ireland play the Ireland way, no-one writes to FIFA telling them to get their act together. They don’t start proposing rule changes or pretend like they’re going to stop watching football altogether. No, they criticise the men responsible. They call O’Neill and Mourinho cowards for being afraid to attack and they call them dinosaurs for using very, very basic tactics that no-one has a problem getting around anymore.

Adrian Cush, the Magherafelt manager, is a savage Gael with a fine reputation as a footballer and a club man. Choosing to play a certain way against four-in-a-row Derry champions doesn’t make him a Bond villain but it also shouldn’t be the reason why people want to overhaul the game.

Managers should be allowed to deploy tactics – especially to try and overcome serious odds – but those same managers should be subject to the brunt of the criticism when a game pans out a certain way and when they lose hopelessly playing that way.

Magherafelt versus Slaughtneil turned into a bit of a farce but don’t blame Gaelic football, blame the guy who told all 15 of his team to sit in their own half and not apply any pressure on the ball when they were losing.

Blame the thought process that took all the effort the Magherafelt fellas will have put in all year – all their lifestyle choices, their discipline, their missing weddings and all the usual shite – and sent them out to play with no way of even trying to win. Blame the poor choices that meant those old-fashioned tactics on Sunday night were the sum of nine months work, planning and preparation to garner one point from play.

And clubs all over Ireland are paying for other people to come in and do the same thing when it’s no longer effective. Blame the clubs who are spending that money and blame the managers who are still sending teams out with no attacking game plan other than ‘transition’.

We’re told we need to incentivise coaches to attack – well how about winning as a bloody incentive? You can’t win a game anymore if you don’t try to win a game.

Since 2011, only Ballinderry and Slaughtneil have won the Derry championship and they didn’t do it with blanket defences. Coleraine won it before them, a crowd who adopt a policy of take your goals and your points will come. Corofin and Crokes are dominating Ireland and we’re still placing stock in this one-dimensional plan and, not only that, willing to transform the game because of it.

Teams using that method are coming up short every time when it matters so it’s already insane that it’s still happening as much as it is. But don’t worry, this whole thing is dying out just like the number 15 at midfield died, just like the midfielder at full forward went, mass defences are in the process of being reduced to a last-gasp solution for weaker sides and a back-alley addiction for managers trying hopelessly to replicate the high they got the first time doing it.

Soon, it will just be another tactic like it is in every sport, one that underdogs use to hang in there – one they should be allowed to use to stay competitive – and a rarity amongst the good teams where the coaches using it will become the notorious ones and face the same scorn as someone like Mourinho does.

All the while, of course, not winning.

Let them do it. The game will move on. It already has.