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10th Sep 2018

Shambolic scenes in Derry championship are surely GAA’s wake-up call

Patrick McCarry

If this is where football is headed, most folks will tell you that you can keep it.

“This is not Gaelic,” shouted one fan.

“Play football!” another bellowed.

Football in Ulster often gets a bad rap for being ultra conservative but Slaughtneil’s win over Magherafelt in the Derry championship met a few of the unfortunate stereotypes.

The game, as evidenced by the top inter-county sides, is all about possession now. That is why kick-out strategies are so important, why basketball coaches are sought after so advice and why turnovers and line breaks have become as important here as they are in rugby.

Lose the ball at your peril and at the annoyance of your coaches. The desire to win is being replaced with a fevered drive to contain at all costs. To take the safe option. To feed into the collective.

Sunday’s game between Ulster champions Slaughtneil and Magherafelt was a grim, grim spectacle. ‘Neil and ‘The Rossas’ played out a low-scoring first half that often saw forwards (a couple of them) isolated 70 metres from the rest of their team as they dropped back inside their 45.

Slaughtneil were 0-4 to 0-3 up coming into half-time when pure farce unfolded. The Slaughtneil players passed the ball around inside their own half, unopposed, for long stretches as their opponents refused to enter and engage with them.

Playing into a strong wind, Slaughtneil had fought hard for the one-point lead and they were trying to draw the Magherafelt players out by retaining the ball around halfway. No dice so the ‘Neil men were fully entitled to keep possession, play down the clock and go into half-time ahead.

The onus was on the team losing to push up to try and win the ball back but they were playing it extremely safe and refused to engage.

The clip below, sent in to us by Darrell Coyle, shows just how shambolic the scenes are and just what the crowd made of this football game eating itself up.

Around four minutes passed without a tackle being attempted and it was half-time. The referee’s whistle led to a strange mix of cheers and boos.

With that appreciable wind at their backs, Slaughtneil build on their half-time lead and eventually won out 0-10 to 0-5. Magherafelt pushed up in the final 10 minutes but it was too late, and asking a team to go from 0 to 60 like that was always going to be a big ask.

The county champions move on but this game must surely be ringing alarm bells in GAA headquarters.

The association may argue, when the final figures are totted up, that attendances were up for the senior football championship this summer but the addition of the Super 8s will have helped massively there. Anyone claiming football was in fine fettle needed only to look at the thousands upon thousands of empty seats at Croke Park for the SFC semi-finals.

Rule changes and tweaks are required if this sport we all love so much is not to devolve into a endless slate of matches like the one served up by the two Derry sides.

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