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Stop Pat Pat Spillane: The major changes I want to see in the GAA in 2022

"I don't make New Year's resolutions nor do I give up stuff for Lent but the GAA needs a fresh start"

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The card shambles for Brian Malone of Shelmaliers saw him miss part of extra time with a black card

The card shambles for Brian Malone of Shelmaliers saw him miss part of extra time with a black card

The card shambles for Brian Malone of Shelmaliers saw him miss part of extra time with a black card

What are you giving up for Lent?

If I had a euro for every time I've been asked that question I would be a very wealthy man now.

My standard answer is always the same: I'm giving up fruit pastilles and custard cream biscuits.

My family remind me I never ate either of them. It didn't matter - it's an answer. I never gave up anything.

I've reasoned that since I'm only in this world a short time I'm going to enjoy myself as much as I can.

Since I retired from football I stopped making New Year resolutions, too.

During my playing days I always set new targets at the start of every year.

Now my motto is to take life as it comes and enjoy myself.

But at this time of year sports commentators usually make predictions.

Sorry, I'm not going to do that.

If I could predict the future, it would be the winning numbers in the Irish lotto jackpot I would be interested in, rather than saying who is going to win the All-Ireland final in July.

So, this morning I'm looking at things I wish were different in the GAA:

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Playing rules and regulations

I was dead against the advance mark from day one.

Now I'm more convinced than ever that it should be dropped.

I know it was introduced to encourage and reward catching and kicking.

Instead, it has become the biggest unused 'gimme' in any sport.

Securing a mark virtually guarantees a score. I can't figure out why teams are not utilising it a lot more.

My objections are two-fold: it interrupts the flow of the game and rewards a player (and his team) for catching a ball which may have been kicked just 20 metres.

It is a bit like paying the postman a bonus for delivering a letter.

It is also open to different interpretations by referees, as we saw in the Connacht club semi-final before Christmas.

The controversial decision of referee Jerome Henry not to award Mountbellew-Moylough a mark in the dying minutes quite possibly cost the Galway champions a place in today's provincial final.

Water breaks

Granted there might have been some justification for its introduction at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But water breaks have long passed their sell-by date.

Look around at other team sports which are played in far hotter and humid conditions - there are no water breaks.

Aside from disrupting the momentum of the game, the water breaks have become akin to timeouts in basketball.

So, we are now seeing whiteboards, iPads and TV monitors being wheeled out along with all of these water bottles.

Let's get real and bin the water breaks ASAP.

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Meath could play in the Tailteann Cup this year despite facing Dublin in the Leinster semi last summer

Meath could play in the Tailteann Cup this year despite facing Dublin in the Leinster semi last summer

Meath could play in the Tailteann Cup this year despite facing Dublin in the Leinster semi last summer


No replays

With the exception of the All-Ireland senior finals there will be no replays in the championship throughout 2022.

All other games will be decided on the day via extra time and penalty shoot-outs if the teams are still level. This is wrong on two counts.

Firstly, replays yield much-needed revenue for the GAA and - more importantly - they are a fairer way of deciding the result.

Penalty taking is a complete lottery, made worse because referees are not penalising goalkeepers for advancing off the goal-line before the kick is taken.

It would be better to decide the outcome via the 'golden score' rule.

Or better again, making it mandatory for a team to win by two scores as happens in basketball and volleyball.

Blood rule

A 'blood' substitute was supposed to a temporary replacement. But it is open to abuse. A simple change in the regulations would solve this issue.

Unless the player being treated for a blood wound returns after ten minutes the substitution is regarded as permanent.

Red card not applying in extra time

The rule that extra time be regarded as a 'new' game was daft to start with. Now with more matches about to be decided in extra time the rule has become untenable and utterly unfair.

Take what happened in last month's Leinster club semi-final between Naas and Shelmaliers.

Naas had Brian Stynes red-carded in the 53rd minute, but were able to use 15 players in extra time.

Whereas the Shelmaliers' Brian Malone had to spend the first nine minutes of ET in the sin bin, having picked up a black card in injury time at the end of normal time.

There was a similar incident in the Leinster club hurling semi-final between Ballyhale Shamrocks and St Rynagh's.

Honestly, how can anybody defend this anomaly?

Split season

Ok I know I sound like a repeating record on this topic. But I'm a traditionalist at heart.

For me, September has always been synonymous with All-Ireland finals and should remain so.

I accept that 95 per cent of all the GAA players are involved only in the club game and the inter-county scene had turned into an untamed monster.

But I believe there has to be a better solution than the 2022 season, which will see NO inter-county action between August and December.

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Feargal McGill of the GAA has me worried

Feargal McGill of the GAA has me worried

Feargal McGill of the GAA has me worried

I note with concern the remarks made recently by Feargal McGill, the GAA's Director of Player, Club and Games Administration.

He accepted there would be a financial knock-on from the decision but added. "So, be it. The GAA was not created to make money, it was created to provide games."

I accept the theory. But money makes the world go around and like all sporting organisations the GAA's finances have been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2019 they lost €34m - the loss in 2020 is estimated to be around €33m.

These deficits all but wipe out the surplus of €74m they made in 2018.

Were it not for the Covid payments they received from the government, the GAA would be in serious trouble.

In retrospect, it was a massive mistake by the GAA not to opt for another winter inter-county championship last season.

They would have almost certainly been allowed full houses at the biggest games.

This year they are really dependent on the five Garth Brooks concerts in Croke Park to give them a financial cushion.

God help the Association's finances if Covid doesn't relent and those performances have to be cancelled.

And the new system is far from perfect anyway.

For example, a minority of the country's elite young footballers and hurlers will be expected to play for their club - in the latter stages of the 2020 All-Ireland series - their counties and their colleges this month.

Worse still, there are a total of 190 games scheduled for the months of February and March - when Irish weather is traditionally at its most erratic and worst.

Meanwhile, there are just 99 matches in the months of May, June and July - and of course the rest of the year is an inter-county-free zone.

Let me repeat what I have written before - there is a solution as advocated by my Sunday World colleague Sean McGoldrick.

In the first half of each year, play inter-county football alongside club hurling.

Then, in the second half of the year, play inter-county hurling and club football.

At a stroke it would extend the inter-county season from late January to at least the end of October.

And, aside from the limited number of inter-county players who are dual performers at club level, it would facilitate all parties and might actually succeed in promoting hurling at club level.

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Cork beat Kerry in Munster in 2020 yet they could play in the Tailteann Cup too

Cork beat Kerry in Munster in 2020 yet they could play in the Tailteann Cup too

Cork beat Kerry in Munster in 2020 yet they could play in the Tailteann Cup too


The Tailteann Cup

At long last weaker counties get an opportunity to play counties of a similar standard in a meaningful competition, where the prize on offer is an All-Ireland championship trophy.

Better still, the winners are guaranteed a place in the Sam Maguire Cup the following season.

And there were promises of more goodies with suggestions that the Tailteann Cup final would be played as a curtain-raiser to the All-Ireland final; that there would be a separate All-Star award scheme and tour and the new competition would be professionally marketed and promoted.

So how could anybody find fault with that?

Well, for starters there are too many teams - possibly as many as 17 - being allowed to compete.

Quite simply there will be too much of a gulf between the strongest and the weakest. Take this scenario, for example.

Two of Galway, Cork, Meath or Roscommon could be playing in the Tailteann Cup in 2022, if they get relegated from Division 2 and fail to reach their respective provincial finals.

Galway and Roscommon are recent provincial winners, Meath contested the Leinster semi-final last year and Cork beat Kerry in the 2020 Munster semi-final.

None of the quartet fit the criteria of 'weak team'.

Remember the All-Ireland hurling championship has five different tiers.

Only 11 counties contest the Liam MacCarthy Cup. There are six teams in each of the other four championships: the Joe McDonagh; Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cups.

Realistically, there is probably a need for a three, if not a four-tiered, football championship.

Even before the Tailteann Cup has started there has been some pushback.

For instance, the final will not be played on the same bill as the Sam Maguire decider. Instead, it will be played on a double bill with one of the All-Ireland football semi-finals.

I have a bad feeling this is the first step in the downgrading of the competition, which will eventually turn into a box-ticking exercise, as is the case with the subsidiary championships in hurling.

Covid 19 restrictions

Back in 2020 the All-Ireland series was played behind closed doors.

Last year we had much reduced attendances while currently outdoor sporting events are restricted to 5,000 or 50 pe rcent capacity, whichever is lower.

Interestingly, when full attendances were allowed at the autumn rugby internationals and the Euro soccer qualifier between the Republic of Ireland and Portugal, Department of Health analysis found there was NO transmission of Covid-19 at outdoor spectator events.

As a nation we have bought into the mantra that we abide by the regulations because they follow the science.

Well the science suggests outdoor controlled environments are probably one of the safest places to be during this pandemic.

This needs to be reflected in the regulations governing crowds at sporting events in 2022.

So, that's my wish list and here's hoping that some of them come to pass in the next 12 months.

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