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pain in my p-ass Pat Spillane: A dry January has made me cranky - and here's why!

Kick-passes disappearing, club game in decline and player welfare not fixed

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Brian Hayes of St Finbarr’s during the Munster Football Club final with Austin Stacks

Brian Hayes of St Finbarr’s during the Munster Football Club final with Austin Stacks

Brian Hayes of St Finbarr’s during the Munster Football Club final with Austin Stacks

A DRY January has made me cranky.

Normally, I find solace from watching sport on TV. But this month’s glut of live action has left me underwhelmed.

The African Cup of Nations is mildly enjoyable – even if, so far, the standard of football is no better than average.

What has struck me is the poor attendances at the games.

But, at least, I discovered the existence of a country I’d never heard of before: the Comoros Islands.

Meanwhile, Manchester City are running away with the Premier League. Pep Guardiola says it is all about keeping possession and getting into a rhythm.

Sorry, but City don’t rock my boat.

Then there is the virtual wall-to-wall coverage of rugby.

The United Rugby Championship has turned into a farce, because the South African clubs will probably not be able to fulfil their backlog of fixtures.

Meanwhile, the sheen has long disappeared off the much-hyped Champions Cup.

The majority of the French clubs have given what amounts to a two-fingered salute to the organisers, by fielding B teams time and again.

The sponsors and TV viewers who fork out to watch the pay-per-view games have been sold a pup.

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There are going to be repercussions before long.

By the way, isn’t it odd how rugby and Gaelic football have swapped their basic game plans.

Gaelic football has become a hand-passing game, whereas rugby has turned into a kicking bore fest.

Then there is horse racing, which was afforded its traditional ‘royal’ treatment, both here and in the UK, over the Christmas and New Year in terms of live TV.

As I have often alluded to in this column, there is no objective coverage of horse racing on TV.

Instead, we get what amounts to cheerleading from the commentators and analysts.

It is rarely highlighted, for example, that in most of the big races here and in Britain, a handful of trainers supply the bulk of the horses.

Indeed, in a big race in Tramore on New Year’s Day, all four horses competing were from the same stable of Willie Mullins.

Not his fault, of course, but you’d imagine some other trainer would have a horse to take his steeds on?

I don’t recall this salient fact being highlighted by the commentators, even though it cannot be healthy for the sport.

The relationship between the commentators and analysts on the sport, and the industry behind the sport, needs to be examined.

Worse still, of course, is the publicity gambling companies receive from the TV coverage of racing.

This is sickening, given that gambling addiction is becoming a scourge in Ireland.

Every day it is destroying individuals and families.

Yet we bury our heads in the sand and allow the gambling industry hours of advertising on television.

But it would be hypocritical of me not to acknowledge that the GAA world isn’t exactly smelling of roses either halfway through the first month of 2022.

Let’s take the club championships in football.

We had a brilliant year in 2020 with superb club championships in Tyrone, Mayo and Dublin, for example.

Last season’s championships, however, which are now heading to their conclusion with the All-Ireland series, were underwhelming to say the least.

The Dublin and Mayo finals were awful – though the Donegal decider between St Eunan’s and Naomh Conall was, arguably, the worst final I watched last year.

The issue is the same regardless of the county. The fear of losing has resulted in the players becoming obsessed with keeping possession, through tortuous recycling of the ball.

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Naas didn’t score in the second half of the Leinster clash against Kilmacud Crokes

Naas didn’t score in the second half of the Leinster clash against Kilmacud Crokes

Naas didn’t score in the second half of the Leinster clash against Kilmacud Crokes

Sadly, it appears the majority of club managers worship at the altar of Jim McGuinness’ ultra-defensive set-up.

I imagined by the time the provincial club finals came around the fare would have improved. I was mistaken.

Here’s a few damning statistics: Naas failed to score in the second half against Kilmacud Crokes in Leinster.

Knockmore’s shooting against Padraig Pearses in Connacht was abysmal.

St Finbarr’s didn’t score for 20 minutes of the second half, and still beat Austin Stacks in Munster.

Derrygonnelly managed just 0-3 in the Ulster final, with their only point of the second half coming in the second minute of injury time.

The first 15 minutes of the Ulster decider demonstrated everything that is wrong with club football.

Kilcoo executed 88 hand-passes – 44 of which went backwards.

They kicked the ball 15 times and seven of those travelled backwards.

Derrygonnelly had 24 hand-passes – 13 went back – and 12 kicks, with five going in the ‘wrong’ direction.

So, 55 per cent of all the hand-passes in the first 15 minutes went backwards, while 44 per cent of the kicks went in the same direction.

I understand the position of Kilcoo boss Mickey Moran (right).

He’s interested in achieving results – not providing us with entertainment.

But, remember, these are the Club Championships that are now going to have five months of the GAA’s year all to themselves.

Given that even most people in a county aren’t too bothered about a club from their county going well nationally, maybe club competitions will have to start entertaining people if they want to keep those TV contracts.

Anyway, after 15 minutes of the Ulster decider, I had lost the will to live and stopped counting hand-passes.

I’ve watched dozens of these type of matches in the last year, and what they all have in common is that much of the hand-passing is done at a pedestrian pace.

I’m not sure what you call this game. But it’s a misuse of the Trades Description Act to call it football.

Though Stacks’ defeat was unexpected, it wasn’t a complete surprise.

As I wrote previously here, the 2021 Kerry senior championship was one of the poorest of recent times.

The majority of the county players were largely anonymous in matches.

Though Stacks deservedly won the Kerry title, they did so with a particularly feeble forward line.

And this caught up with them last weekend.

These club championships should set alarm bells ringing in the GAA.

Granted, they are enjoyable for the teams’ fans and very colourful.

But they’re of a poor standard compared to county football.

And they do not command a national profile – and never will.

So, it is all the more bonkers that the GAA has shoe-horned its entire inter-county programme into the first seven months of the year, in order to devote those five months to club football and hurling.

But it would also be remiss of me to suggest that the inter-county game is perfect either.

The inexorable decline of foot-passing and the parallel growth in hand-passing continued in 2021.

Here’s a few random, though sobering, statistics.

In the 1997 All-Ireland semi-final Mayo hand-passed the ball 76 times and kicked it on 56 occasions. Offaly had 71 hand-passes and 55 kick-passes.

So, 56 per cent of all passes in that match were via the hand.

By the time the 2008 All-Ireland final rolled around, more than a decade later, the percentage of hand-passes had increased to 60 per cent.

This growth in the use of the hand-pass has accelerated in the last ten years.

In the 2019 All-Ireland final and replay between Dublin and Kerry, 75 per cent of all the passes were via the hand.

Now the backward pass has become an integral element of the game.

For example, in last year’s Leinster final between Dublin and Kildare 308 passes went backwards.

During that Leinster final, Dublin once kept the ball for three minutes and ten seconds, using 27 hand-passes and 13 kick-passes.

It might be an effective tactic, but it drives fans around the bend.

So we now have the crazy situation where the majority of inter county matches will be played in January, February and March.

Heaven help us if the weather should turn nasty during the next 12 weeks.

Finally, the new schedule has not resolved all player-welfare issues.

On Wednesday week last, Jack Savage and Tony Brosnan featured for MTU Kerry campus (formerly Tralee IT) in their Sigerson Cup win over UCD in Tralee.

They then travelled nearly 200k for Kerry’s McGrath Cup game against Tipperary in Templetuohy.

Last weekend Armin Heinrich was introduced by Austin Stacks after 50 minutes – having played for Tralee CBS 24 hours earlier.

There have been numerous examples of players featuring in two games in the space of three or four days for county and college sides respectively.

Here are just three examples: Rob Finnerty, DCU and Galway; Damien Gore, MTU Cork campus and Cork and Jack Bryant, DCU and Offaly.

Yesterday’s McGrath Cup final between Kerry and Cork featured a lot of the players who faced each other on Tuesday night in the Sigerson Cup encounter between Kerry MTU and Cork MTU.

Instead of the lunacy of scheduling the All-Ireland finals for July, the GAA would have been much better advised to at least ban counties from featuring players who are involved in the Sigerson Cup.

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