Tuesday, November 07, 2006

How to Save The International Rules Series

Anyone who read my recent post on the international rules series will undoubtedly be expecting a several hundred word, carefully structured and thoughtfully composed I TOLD YOU SO!!! Complete with "Na Na Na Naaa Na" and everything. However, not being so childish and puerile, I refuse to use the events of Sunday and the resultant storm of controversy, which has led to the series' future prospects being roughly commensurate with Saddam Hussein's, as an opportunity to sanctimoniously blow my own trumpet.

Firstly, the hoo-ha over the violenct scenes in the first quarter has been both overstated and erroneously directed solely against the Aussies (particularly by both Sean Boylan and GAA president Nickey Brennan, the shrillness of both of whose remarks were quite surprising and unnecessary). Sure, the first quarter was an embarassing spectacle, in which the hallowed turf of Croke Park resembled more a particularly unruly playground in boys' junior school, bodies wrestling here, headlocks being imposed there.

The rest of the match, however, was played in considerably cleaner fashion - possibly because the Irish seemed unable to get anywhere near their opponents - which allowed the Australians to display some genuinely impressive skills and play. The tackle on Graham Geraghty which led to the Meathman being hospitalised was indeed totally fair, although one imagines it was delivered with a little more aggression than necessary given Geraghty's low popularity ratings amongst his Australian opponents.

Boylan and Brennan's outrage, however, was clumsier by far than the tackle on Geraghty. Portraying the Irish players as unsuspecting lambs to the slaughter was simply incorrect; the scuffling which preceded the throw-in and occurred throughout the first quarter was the caused by both sides: off the ball jostling, followed by grappling, followed by wrestling on the ground and the occasional punch. Neither side wished to be seen to be backing down and so neither did. Notice the emphasis on dual culpability.

Anyone who is familiar with GAA culture knows that violence, mass brawls, off-the-ball jostling and needle have long been a part of the games, from underage up to, but less commonly nowadays, senior level. The wide-eyed innocents characterisation cannot wash, m'lud.

One imagines the pride of the Irish management and the GAA brass was stung by the ineptitude of the Irish performance and the cry of foul play was issued to spin away criticisms about what took place on the occasions when football broke out.

So is the series doomed? Perhaps. But if those who support it wish to argue for its future, they should not allow the problem of violence to scupper their cause. Had Sunday's game been a closer affair on the scoreboard, it is likely that the unsavoury scenes of the early game would have been forgotten, or at least rationalised. One could speculate that Brennan's comments were also a way of killing the series to spare future Irish humiliations rather than bruises.

Whether there is enough support for the game to steer it through the current choppy waters is unclear; even those who flocked in their tens of thousands did so out of curiosity and for a day out rather than through passion for the sport, and one senses that die-hard fans of either code will not lose too much sleep over its demise.

However, magnanimously, here is my prescription to save the International Rules Series:

1. Discipline, boys, that's the key!
Everyone who turns up for these series wants biff and bang, aggression and commitment. But the game needs to eradicate, for its image and respectability, the too-familiar scenes of brawling. If only so we don't have to listen to Marty Morrissey tut-tutting like a nun at a stripclub. Referees must be instructed to firmly apply disciplinary measures, not simply act like boxing referees, breaking them up, then shouting "box". In fairness the referees on Sunday did sin-bin several players, a contributory factor in the game cooling down after the first quarter.

Importantly, however, the players are operating in a sanction free environment, outside of the series. Therefore, there is no deterrent to players who decide to inflict deliberate violence on an opponent, other than suspension from the next test. They might possibly never play in another one, nor might they ever even meet their opponents again. Suspensions carrying over into regular season AFL/GAA games might prove some deterrent.

2.Come on over to my place..
They may have sounded a little glib, but the comments from Kevin Sheedy that the players and management should sit down and have dinner together aren't totally silly. The week preceding the match had been rife with childish goading and sinister threats. Perhaps if the players saw it as more of an end of season lark than the psychotic, macho bloodfest they evidently perceive it as now then the whole thing could go off a little more pleasantly.

One of the series' high points came a few years ago when Graham Canty and Barry Hall had an almightly, but clean, tussle for the duration of the match. At the end, both embraced and complimented each other's performance, Hall stating that he was looking forward to next time.

A few beers and a bucket of chicken wings might help defuse the tension and retrieve some of that cameraderie.

3.Full-Time Job
Physicality. Athleticism. Preparation time. Recovery time. All of these issues are advantages for the Australian professionals, and skew the series in their favour. Several Irish players played club games between the two matches of the international rules series and most would have worked in their jobs in the intervening days.

I have documented my problems with the integrity of this game as a sport, but fundamentally, if there are to be only two teams competing, they at least should be doing so from an equal standing point. It's clear that the Australians are getting the hang of the round ball and goalscoring, once seen as the fundamental advantages the amateur Irish enjoyed.

So if the series has a future, the Irish players must become professional.

Well I never said it was going to be easy....


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it’s hilarious that everyone keeps harking back to the fact that every so often there is a scuffle in GAA games around the country.

1) Yes there does be, but none ever amount to the level of violence or duration that was seen in Croke Park on Sunday. I hope you were there personally as the T.V won’t give you a full insight.

2) The Aussies are supposed to be professionals, inciting fights is un-professional; especially when it is strongly punished and looked down upon in there own discipline down under.

3) There was a tactical decision made by the Australian back room team to come out fighting and defeat the Irish mentally and physically, which they did.
The effect of such as brawl cannot be taken lightly. Also they were given the choice to forfeit the game after the first quarter, so after this they were never really going to get back into the game.

4) No GAA club has ever used this tactic of violence intentionally, whatever about emotions getting the better of an armature player during club games.

Finally, why in Gods name would we ever want to improve or maintain this petty, boring, violent game.

Le meas

2:11 p.m.  
Blogger Fence said...

So, is the real debate should the GAA turn professional?

3:17 p.m.  
Blogger Tommy77 said...

Just being mischievious really. But it is in the sense that in a few weeks this series will have been forgotten about and the questions about the GAA's future as an amateur organisation will resurface.

To be honest, I think that's a more interesting and worthwhile debate anyway...

3:22 p.m.  
Blogger Tommy77 said...

Some very interesting comments on the last international rules post from an anonymous poster who knows an awful lot about AFL and its tactics, which describe how the Aussies have defeated the Irish so comprehensively the last two occasions through superior brain, rather than brawn. It seems that professionalism in their coaching was as important as in their physical preparation

11:45 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a quality debate between yourself and anonymous about the compromise rules. Actually makes the game interesting for the right reasons.

2:03 p.m.  
Blogger WatchingCartoons said...

Having watched the game at Croke from the comfort of my home, I felt the physicality of the game had little to do with the result. I thought the biggest problems (for Ireland) were a complete lack of imagination and ideas. Too many silly passes or poor shots.
I felt that should Ireland harbour any thoughts of competing in this format, then a change of attitude and outlook would be what was needed. This has been something I had thought following several previous series, and appeared to be reinforced further this time.
In terms of selection, the Aussies had the right idea - pick the players to suit the game, not the best from your own game.
Also, I thought that on too many occasions Irish players were stuck in GAA mode, instead of trying to actually think about what they were doing and using the rules to their advantage where possible.

2:21 p.m.  
Blogger Tommy77 said...

Yep that's the kind of comments we want now, no more drunken ramblings, instead only detailed deconstructions of tactics and technique are permitted...well, some drunken ramblings would be nice too...

2:40 p.m.  

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