Who coaches the coaches in the GAA

by Weeshie Fogarty

I MUST admit at being pleasantly surprised when I heard new GAA President Liam O'neill in his first press briefing acknowledged that Gaelic football, in its current guise, had become "boring," an observation that will give some hope to those die hard supporters falling out of love with the game.

I had often questioned my own judgment in later years as regards the standard of football we now watch both at club and county level on more or less a regular basis. As one moves on in years you can very easily be accused of living in the past and unfairly comparing and criticising the modern game of Gaelic football and the manner in which it is played.

However, before I go any further I must add that in my opinion the present day players definitely put in more time and personal sacrifice than their counterparts in past years. And here in I have the fifties and sixties particularly in mind. Those decades and, indeed, even later I would have personal insight into this as a player, coach and trainer.

Both at club and county level the perpetrations were far less demanding back then. There was no such thing as DVD analysis, no foreign training camps, you ate and drank more or less as you wished, no such thing as match statistics, the manager had yet to come into being and team doctors, physiotherapists, coaches, liaison officers, etc.etc. were literally unheard of except in the cross channel English League.

But back to a few observations of the new president. He stated: "However, the defensiveness of the game at the moment and the over-use of the hand pass are slowing it down and it's boring. It's not what our supporters want, we like physical contact and we like the game moving forward."

A playing rules committee will continue to opera t e under O'neill's presidency, but may involve different people with different ideas. He then went further and setting a template for managers was another issue he touched upon.

"At some stage we are going to have to set a standard for what we call the person in charge of a team, whether it is the term manager or what. Should the GAA devise a course for managers and explain to people on the course that you don't get to be a club or county manager without having done the appropriate course? It wouldn't be about control, but it might be able to effect change."

Strong words indeed and brave words in this day and age where those controlling the association are fully expected to toe the so called party line and never criticise the standard of our games. And it must also be noted that it was football he decried and no mention of hurling.

In my opinion and this goes for many I speak to what O'neill has said is the real kernel of the problem. We are seeing massive emphasis on preventing the opposition from playing. The mantra by most counties and clubs – and I have sadly seen colleges also adopting these swarming ultra defensive tactics –is defend in depth, in addition to slow boring continuous hand passing. It is slowly and irrecoverable strangling the game thus preventing it developing into the spectacular all action field game it has the untapped potential be.

Who will ever forget the wonderful free flowing amazing and magnificent game between Kerry and Galway in Croke Park (2008), in the quarter-final the day the heavens opened and it rained cats and dogs. Kerry won 1-21 to 1-16. Nine Kerry players scored that day. Declan O'sullivan hit the post at the canal goal with a rocket of a shot from thirty meters out.

And what about Kerry and Dublin clash in 2009 when Kerry scored 1-24 and in the process gave a brilliant exhibition of open attacking all action football. Nine Kerry players also raised flags that day. Sadly games such as these are as rare as hen's teeth.

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte did not take too kindly to the president's remarks and hit back last week saying he was "appalled by the negativity and knew no other sport or organisation that decries their own product".

He admitted that he's tired of comparisons being made with the game of the seventies. He also said: "If people keep saying something often enough, then certain people start to believe it. If you don't question thing that are not right, then people will accept it as truth. And it's not the truth."

He also added that the game has much more to offer today. I have huge admiration for Mickey Harte both as a manager and on a personal basis, however, there is no way I would agree with his sentiments that the game to day has to more to offer as it ever had. On the other hand players of to day are more skillful in all aspects of the game than ever before but most of the time they are not allowed display those great skills. .

So just ask yourself a very simple question, would you prefer to have an open attacking free flowing spectacular display on a regular basis or a swarming, bunching, fouling, defence game? The new president may well have it the nail on the head when he asked: "Should the GAA devise a course for managers and explain to people on the course that you don't get to be a club or county manager without having done the appropriate course"?

Players will always play as they are instructed by their manager / trainer. The question is of course, are those instructions negative or positive in relation to how our game is played?

Radio Kerry - The Voice of the Kingdom