LET’S use our imagination and watch the last play of the All-Ireland final of 2014.
Mayo are destroying Dublin thanks to a blistering start — we did say this would take imagination — but have wobbled since and the gap is down to two points.
A couple of dropped balls from Mayo defenders — we won’t name them because they get enough abuse without us drawing attention to the errors they haven’t even made yet — and suddenly Bernard Brogan is in narrow daylight, tearing toward Hill 16.
Donal Vaughan has one chance to foul him outside the large parallelogram, to prevent the goal-scoring chance. He can even make it look like he’s attempting a legitimate tackle.
Does he do the obvious thing, wrap his arms around Brogan, and collapse them both to the ground? Or does the prospect of receiving a black card and being substituted for the last 10 seconds deter him from such cynicism?
A third question, whose answer is less obvious than the first two: Is the Pope cool with gay marriage?
We read all weekend about how Eugene McGee was “visibly emotional” — a step up from being invisibly emotional, presumably — how Liam O’Neill described the passing of the FRC proposals as a “momentous occasion”, how Tony Scullion, that bastion of cynicism-free corner-back play, was wound up before the congress vote as if he was about to take the field in 1993.
Black cards can’t lead to any harm, I suppose, beyond causing a little confusion.
But the FRC acted as if they’d somehow saved Gaelic football, which is naïve. Teams defending leads late in big games will not be deterred by having to substitute players. Besides, if you want to slow down a team breaking from defence, a hand in the back or a brief tug of the jersey will do the job.
More to the point than those quibbles, however, is the question: save Gaelic football from what? More classic games such as those last year between Donegal and Kerry, Donegal and Cork, Mayo and Dublin?
Let’s remember what caused the FRC to be set up for in the first place — the over-reaction in the RTE studio to Dublin’s 0-8 to 0-6 win against Donegal in 2011.
Systematic fouling is a problem — and it is right to come up with ideas to improve the situation — but it is hardly threatening the game. RTE pay Joe Brolly and Pat Spillane to over-react because the national broadcaster underestimates its audience’s intelligence. The hyperbole pundits indulged in after that game in 2011 has influenced opinion and resulted in the exaggeration we saw last weekend.
You might ask what the harm is — a bit of pantomime punditry has resulted in rule changes that might improve the game. Well, the harm is this: while we waste our time talking down the sport we profess to love, other problems are genuinely undermining Gaelic football.
The obvious example is the fixtures gridlock and one motion soundly defeated at congress that sought to do something about it came from Nemo Rangers, who proposed moving the All-Ireland finals to August.
There were pros and cons to the motion, but at least it tried. Good on Nemo, but this issue is so important that it needs tackling at the top, rather than from exasperated club committees.
When I used to live at home, this time of the year created an incredible buzz on the club scene, as the county leagues began. We would get games weekend after weekend. There would be good crowds as the weather picked up, good football chat about the raft of matches all around the county when you went for a pint, and gradually building excitement as we looked to summer and…
… And nothing.
June, July and August would pass by with no club championship games, the odd league game, and debates over whether clubs should keep training for a match that might or might not happen in early October.
Talk to any club player or coach and they will tell you that this is the real cancer on the Association, not the odd game once a year where some team plays ultra-defensive football and loses by a couple of points.
How those thousands of players would love Liam O’Neill to gather a high-profile committee to tackle this problem.
I’d favour an inter-county season that ran from the first round of the NFL in April or May to the All-Ireland final on the first Sunday of September at the latest. That would entail almost every county playing games thick and fast throughout summer.County leagues could run at the same time, with every club in the country required to play these games without their county players. Then most counties could start their county championships at some point in August and have at least two months of decent weather to run them off.
This is top-of-the-head: intelligent, hard-working men such as O’Neill and McGee and Scullion could solve this problem if they even devoted half the energy they did to slightly tweaking the rules on the punishment for swearing. They could do real good for every player in the country.
Memo to Croke Park: the first rule of saving something is to identify what needs saving. A good place to start would be listening to the concerns of Nemo and the thousands like them, rather than RTÉ’s performing seals.