DECLAN McCOY: The Jurassic Park principle

WHILE it’s great to have a fellow Armagh man as the new president of the GAA, I have to say I don’t envy his task in addressing the state of the game.

A lot of games are turning into basketball and the entertainment value has dropped. This, in conjunction with the complete lack of jeopardy in the new championship format, has caused a visible drop-off in attendances. It’s worth noting that Croke Park could have facilitated the crowds for all four of this year’s provincial finals in one sitting.

A good example of this was the recent Ulster final in Clones. After extra-time the score stood at 20 points apiece. At first glance you’d think that this was a high-octane cracker.

Now as boring as I am, I actually love the tactical side of the game and I must say some of the scores by both teams were exceptional. Though it was tense for long periods it wasn’t a great spectacle in terms of entertainment. It was ‘you have a go and we will drop off your kick-outs then you drop off our kick outs and we will‘have a go.’

A good indicator of the lack of entertainment in the modern game comes immediately after the ball is thrown in. The next time you are at a big championship game look out for the complete drop-off in atmosphere as soon as the game starts.

I took my son, Cian, to the match and he was buzzing with excitement for the parade and was cheering on our club mate Aaron McKay (On a side note I’d like to wish him a safe return from London where he is currently attending Arsenal’s parade for finishing second again). The atmosphere was electric and as the national anthem ended an almighty cheer went up. It was big game time. Let’s go.

Then for the next three minutes you could hear the players calling each other on the pitch and the din of conversations in the crowd. I’d given Cian a match program and he started to read it during the match. There was also a queue for the shop and I decided I’d take him when the match started so he wouldn’t miss anything. When you add in the inevitable head ache later in the evening from the blight that is air horns, you’d sometimes wonder is it worth the hassle.

Who’s to blame and how do you fix it? As I’ve said many times, the win at all costs culture is the driving force. Coaches like myself rarely care about how you win, only that you do win. At times I’ve gone with all out defence to win or try to win a game, as I deemed it the best chance to get a result on a given day. I’ve never set out with the ambition of playing entertaining football. I always look at the tools available in terms of players and coaches and try to get the maximum from them to give them the best chance of being successful.

I’m extremely worried about changing the rules of the game to try and change the game. I firmly believe that the game will evolve naturally.

If we look at Jim McGuiness who revolutionised the game with his defensive brand.

This was copied up and down the country with a widely varying degree of success. That’s the issue – people see something derived by someone else and blindly copy it.

The assumption is that all football teams are suited to one style and if you copy from someone else you can simply apply the principles without fully understanding them or even if they suit your players.

I’m reminded of a Geoff Goldblum quote from Jurassic Park: “I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here: it didn’t take any disciple to attain it. You know, you read what others had didn’t earn the knowledge yourselves so you don’t take any responsibility for it…You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something and before you even knew what you had you patented it.”

Sooner or later another manager or team will revolutionize the game and everyone will copy it. Who’s to say the next iteration isn’t an attacking change? This may lead to more entertaining and attacking football organically.

Rule changes often bring unintended consequences. The offensive mark was well intentioned in trying to bring the attacking skills of kick and catch into the game. It has done the complete opposite with long kicks being replaced by dinked passes and overhead catches replaced with collecting the ball at your feet. It also has killed the attacking instincts of the inside forward and the defensive skill set of the man-marker. I’d hope we look at the game from the ground up and attempt to enhance the structures from that perspective.

This a purer, more long-term approach that leadership can affect and build upon. If we try to change things at senior county level and work down, we are too open to tactical tweaks that try to combat and even circumvent the new rules and then this is imitated by every team in the country and we’re back to square one.

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