Gerard O'Kane

GERARD O’KANE – Fans are voting with their feet

THE ‘State of the Nation’ address is an annual message delivered by the President of the United States on the current condition of the nation in terms of economy, education, health etc.

Well in the last few weeks, it seems like half of all GAA related articles and almost 100 per cent of podcasts I have listened to have had a sort of ‘state of the game‘ debate regarding the current fare being served up to supporters of the game. It’s a conversation that is hard to avoid.

The whole question about winning versus entertainment has dominated each debate and I have to say the less I am playing and the more I am watching it is hard to argue with a lot of what is being said.

Whether it is the current cost of living crisis, especially with the pricing structures around the new format or the fact that a lot of games are being televised, supporters are definitely talking with their feet.

I have found myself going to a few club games as of late where I have no skin in the game and when I am there, I genuinely ask myself ‘why did I come here?’

The more you actually open your eyes and look around you at a club game (most likely anywhere), you will see pockets of people gathered but they will be engaged in conversation with each other as much as they are engaged in the actual match.

The GAA is meant to be Ireland’s greatest social outlet and for the time the match is on, it is meant to enthrall and entertain supporters. That, it is certainly not doing. There are so many matches now that pass without any sort of excitement that it is only going to last so long that not only supporters levels fall but participation levels might begin to drop too.

The idea of the standard club player preparing himself for three or four nights a week and maybe sacrificing the other nights of the week to rest, only to go out and get no joy out of the game will only lead to apathy amongst our playing group.

I am not going to start harking back to football in the past and romancing about the glory days of GAA where in reality if you watched some of what was served up was technically pretty poor and I don’t have to go back too far for that.

I have a collection of DVDs from important games I played in and I remember watching them and cringing a little at how poor the games were, but in my mind’s eye I always thought they had been swashbuckling end-to-end affairs.

However, there can be no arguing that supporters would take more mistakes and excitement generated from these games in the past than the methodical and mechanical game we see in most instances today.

However, with one foot on the players camp as I am still togging out, I can see the value in the way most teams play. Most of my games have been at reserve level so far and this has generally meant 13-a-side. That in itself lends itself to more space and freedom and probably generates more scores, but I don’t see that as a viable option going forward in games in general.

The one major gripe I have with that is it would deprive four lads of a game of football each time a game is played. With trying to get as many players involved as possible, I don’t see the value in cutting numbers of players playing.

This would most likely mean four players traditionally playing senior will play reserve which in turn will have a knock-on effect and four lads who play reserve socially won’t get as much game time and there is a fair chance they will drop off.

While playing these reserve games, I do find myself using phrases such as, “keep the ball”, “keep it out of the tackle”, “don’t kick the ball” etc, so in essence I am maybe talking out of both sides of my mouth here. In one breath I am lamenting about the state of football while in another I am seeing myself as part of the problem as a player and that’s even before I would stick my coaching hat on.

The solution – I certainly don’t have it at the minute. I loathe to start tinkering again as that’s what most Congress meetings now seem to involve, debates around rule changes and formats. Frankly it can be a bit exhausting and there are probably very few who now know all the actual playing rules. But the GAA at central level cant be immune to the endless debate and conversation surrounding the games and what it had become each week.

One of the most obvious ones is the forward mark: it should be binned immediately. This is one of these rules that has unintended consequences and it hasn’t promoted more long kicking and high ball contests. All it has done is led to more manufactured set plays and fewer forwards taking on their defenders and again why would they. You often hear, ‘why didn’t he take the mark’ if a forward does take his man on or shoots under pressure etc.

While I would love to continue to play the game, I know I am in the twilight of my career (I think I have written this a few times on here) but I am glad I got to play in the era I did.

For the most part it was a time when there were tactical innovations but not to the point where it stifled the game. It’s no one man’s or one team’s fault, and it will take more than one man or team to fix the problems that exist but if they don’t, the idea of rocking up to a match in 30 years time where supporters have no skin in the game might be a thing of the past as the entertainment is just not there.

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