After a summer of Championship football that threw up less thrills than a merry-go-round, it is far from surprising that conversations have already turned to the future Gaelic football and how its current slide towards the abyss might be stopped. Speaking on OTB AM this morning, Prof. Niall Moyna of DCU gave his take on where the game is currently at.
“It’s actually sad to see where Gaelic football currently is. It’s an extremely poor spectacle” he said. “I’ve been to two games this summer. I mean, I would normally go to 15, 20, sometimes I go to two games a day. You couldn’t pay me to go to a Gaelic football game now. It’s absolutely appalling. I think we have a responsibility to do something for our game. I gave a talk a few years ago at the AFL conference in Melbourne and I spoke to some of the officials afterwards and they had the same problem for a number of years, but they decided to address it and they continually changed the rules.”
The conversation about rule change has been coming to the boil all summer, with a stark example of the current malaise on show in Derry last night, in the championship clash between Slaughtneil and Magherafelt.
Cahair O’Kane of the Irish News was one of the lucky attendees to witness what he described this morning as “at least three minutes of Slaughtneil keeping the ball on their own 45... Magherafelt point blank refused to press, Slaughtneil refused to go in.”
Slaughtneil won in the end on a 10 points to 5 scoreline, so Magherafelt’s evasion of the football didn’t exactly pay off, but the Derry side’s attitude is indicative of coaching nationwide, according to Prof. Moyna.
“You see teams that are behind and know that they have to get scores and they’re still playing in that defensive formation” he told us. “So, it’s ingrained – and I think a lot of the coaches have to take responsibility for this – and when you see it all the way down to under 12, under 14 level now, you really do have to worry for the future of the game.”
So, how would Prof. Moyna go about avoiding this worrisome future? Here are three changes he’d like to see made.
1) The handpass rule
Prof. Moyna thinks limiting a team to three handpasses at any one time is not only an attractive proposition for neutrals, but also an easily officiated regulation.
“For me, it’s obvious that the handpass is a huge, huge problem. It’s easier to officiate three handpasses than it is four steps, in hurling and football... that one simple rule could have a huge impact” he says.
2) A new scoring zone
“I would have a new scoring zone, 35 metres out, an arc” Prof. Moyna says. “Score outside that, you get two points. It means that players can’t zone back in on top of the 'D' and play defensive mode because you’d be getting two points and it would also promote shooting from outside which would be brilliant which is really out of our game.”
3) Backwards passing
Moyna says: “The whole issue about passing the ball back... it has to be a simple rule that you can’t pass it back maybe across your own halfway line."
O’Kane would go one step further: “Where you cross a line, you can’t go back over it... it’s fairly simple, I think it’s much easier to implement. The big problem is, the tackle is so poorly defined and it’s so easy to keep possession.”
Overall, Moyna believes we cannot focus solely on how to fix the standard championship spectacle in senior inter-county football.
“Whatever rule changes are made have to go all the way to under-12 and under-14 club level” he explains. “We’re going to lose many of our young players to other sports if we don’t radically make changes.
“They’ve got to set up a select group that does not have to go through congress, that can make these changes on a yearly basis.
“Gaelic football is dying unless it’s radically addressed, and it can be a phenomenal game.”