Not many people may be aware of this, but actuarially speaking, hurling is a safer game than football. Seems counter-intuitive doesn’t it? But think about it for a bit. We assume that just because hurling involves sticks, it must mean more injuries are incurred. The thing is, the players are not allowed to hit each other with the sticks. It happens, but it is a rare thing indeed to see a player get a debilitating injury from a hurley.
Hurling might be a contact sport, but the object of the game i.e. possession of the sliotar, does not lend itself to the kind of full-on collisions, which are part and parcel of Gaelic Football. The rules of hurling are also clearer on what constitutes a legitimate tackle. Football unfortunately, has evolved to the point, where the game and the amazingly fit men and women who play it, have moved beyond the rules.
No longer the simple game of catch and kick, but a torrid 70 minute drag-fest, where every single blade of grass is covered and almost every attempt at self-expression is smothered, if not actively discouraged by one’s coach. Yes, I know you’re now asking; is this to be another lament by a Kerryman for a game, Kerry used to win, by just showing up? I’ll admit, there’s an element of that to this, but the deterioration I see in football is more than just a matter of self-centered aesthetics.
The problem you see, is that players are now fit enough to be as cynical as any professional player in any sport. We idolise sport, but we know that at the highest levels, team-games are amazingly cynical. Soccer, Rugby, Australian-Rules, American Football, Hurling and Gaelic Football, it doesn’t matter, the will and desire to win, far out-strips any of our quaint notions of Corinthian values, fairness and honour.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve noticed that when friends meet to play and there are no referees, the participants tend to police themselves and keep the cynicism to a minimum. In saying that, when I’ve played five-a-side with my friends, I will take that extra second to return a ball for a free, just to make sure I am in the correct position. And I do take a certain unfortunate delight, in ‘accidentally‘ obstructing an opposing player. We laugh about it of course, but we both know it’s a form of cheating.
If I wasn’t fat and old, I am certain I would not only have more opportunities to cheat, I would take a portion of those opportunities. Now imagine if I was playing for my County, there are thousands of baying fans, TV cameras and an All-Ireland at stake. Well you don’t have to imagine it. Just watch a Gaelic Football game from the last ten years. They’re a dreadful mess.
Again, this is not because we have suddenly become nasty people, no, we were always nasty. Look at the some of the old games on TG4. No, the difference is, the less skillful can now keep up with the skillful and foul them when necessary. A situation made worse by the fact that it is very difficult to get sent off in Gaelic Football and there are so many players to share the fouls between.
Taking substitutes into account, a team can commit up to 40 fouls (depending on the nature of the fouls of course) before a player need be sent off. 40 fouls! More than one foul every two minutes. That’s 40 fouls, by just one team!
Players are free to foul, players are fit enough to foul, the rules are ambiguous enough that sometimes a foul tackle is not a foul tackle, depending on the referee and most importantly, there is a belief that sending a player off is almost always too harsh. It spoils the game is the refrain. I assume this is cited as a defence, because the All-Ireland series, even with the innovation of the ‘back-door‘ is terribly short. Too few people seem to want to see players pay a high price for fouling, as there are so few important games.
This is destroying the game as a spectacle. Soccer is possibly the most obscenely cynical profession on the planet. Players kiss their badges in May and then happily move to a rival club in August. And they will chop a player down, dive, intimidate a ref, cheat and cheat and cheat, but the ruling body of Soccer knows that to attract people to the sport, it must be an attractive sport. So when a player brings down Messi, that player knows he is going to pay a price.
Attacking players are afforded as much protection as possible. Could a team as short in stature as Barcelona, have thrived in any other era? No chance, they would have been kicked from pillar to post and be expected to get on with it. Players get sent off more frequently and get suspended for longer. Is soccer now purer than Gaelic Football? No, but it does have a better idea of human nature. People will cheat, so let there be a price and make that price sufficiently high, that more often than not, cheating isn’t worth it. Sometimes you are gong to have to let Messi get by you, without trying to kick him.
In Gaelic Football it is almost always worth bringing down a player who is in a scoring position. Imagine a game of Gaelic Football with less than a dozen personal fouls committed over the 70 minutes. Imagine that type of football. Even Hurling would benefit from that change. The problem though, is that people like me are in a minority. It appears to me that most people are content with their 70 minute drag-fests, where fitness can overcome skill. It’s no wonder then I now wouldn’t cross the road to watch a game of football. Why would I when I can access so many more attractive alternatives?