Accumulator thousandaire and Boylesports' greatest scourge Niall Carew is annoyed. The new Sligo manager has told the Examiner he is angry at the GAA's failure to 'define the tackle'. He points out, quite reasonably, that the failure of association to define the tackle makes it difficult for him to coach the tackle.
If you don’t have a definite tackle, I can’t coach a tackle, because there isn’t a tackle. There is a different interpretation every week. Unless they bring in the Australian Rules football tackle, which is release the ball when you are tackled and then everyone knows if you don’t release the ball it is a free against you. Unless they do that, you are going to have lads like me giving out every week.
No doubt when Michael Cusack and Archbishop Croke sat down in Hayes Hotel to sketch out the rules for their new sport (though we're not sure whether that kind of nitty gritty was a feature of the evening) they hit upon on the issue of physicality and dispossession. How could one player plausibly and coherently dispossess a player who was holding a ball in his arms and what level of violence/physicality was acceptable?
They were unable to find a solution that night and said they'd revisit it another time.
129 years later and little headway had been made as far as defining the tackle was concerned. Deciding that 130 years of procrastination on the issue would be a tad excessive, the Football Review Committee did their best to come up with a definition in late 2013. What they came up with was something that seemed designed to drive coaches of a defensive disposition to distraction.
Tackle is a skill by which a player may dispossess an opponent or frustrate his objective within the Rules of Fair Play. The tackle is aimed at the ball, not the player. The tackler may use his body to confront the opponent but deliberate bodily contact (such as punching, slapping, arm holding, pushing, tripping, jersey pulling or a full frontal charge) is forbidden. The only deliberate physical contact can be a Fair Charge i.e. Shoulder-to-shoulder with at least one foot on the ground. More than one player can tackle the player in possession.
This definition is unsatisfactory in that involves rather unscientific speculation about the motive of the defensive player (deliberate bodily contact is forbidden implies that accidental bodily contact is okay).
It also allows group tackling while saying that they are only allowed slap the ball rather than the man. A form of group defending whereby all the players managed to avoid touching the man would be rather hard to execute to say the least.
Pushing and slapping remain endemic in the game and are often overlooked by referees. The pushing and slapping of a player in possession in a crowded area is often extremely difficult for a referee to spot. And even when a referee does spot it he often just decides to leave it go.
So, despite this valiant attempt at a definition the tackle remains an impossibly grey area, grey enough for a coach like Carew to say the area hasn't been defined properly and for no one to come forward and contradict him.
But then some supporters don't want a defined tackle at all and want us to continue with the status quo, which involves the referee employing this vague tool known as 'common sense' and just playing it as he sees it.
(Incidentally the same people who lionize 'common sense' in refereeing very often lament the 'inconsistency' that apparently blights GAA reffing these days. The notion that it is the 'rule of common sense' that has fostered this inconsistency never strikes them.)
They fear any attempt to define the tackle (or even enforce the tackle rule as defined by the FRC) would remove the physicality from the game. Alternatively, just adopting the Aussie Rules tackle (as Niall Carew kind of endorses) would be legitimising some form of rugby tackle. Therefore, any attempt to define the tackle will either make the game too physical or not physical enough.
Given the amount review committees and rule changes we've seen, (not to mention the amount time that has elapsed since bloody 1884) the only conclusion one can draw is that it is not possible to 'define the tackle' in the precise manner Carew wants without altering the character of Gaelic Football beyond recognition.