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Groundhog Day Salthill farce a storm of our making - the GAA hasn't learned any lessons

Major lack of forethought and insistence on playing league so early causing fixture woes

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Kerry legend Pat Spillane. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Kerry legend Pat Spillane. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Kerry legend Pat Spillane. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

There is a Groundhog Day feeling about this column.

Of course, I accept the GAA has no control over the weather, but last weekend Met Éireann issued numerous alerts about the likely severity and location of Storm Eunice and Storm Franklin.

Five league games were postponed - but in the case of Galway v Offaly and Wexford v Tipperary the away team had travelled.

Indeed, the teams had completed their warm-up in Wexford Park before the match was finally called off, ten minutes before the rescheduled throw-in.

We had an even more farcical situation in Salthill.

Despite a warning from Met Éireann that it was unsafe to walk on the promenade in Salthill, it was assumed it would be OK to play a GAA match 200 metres away in Pearse Stadium.

So, the Offaly squad had no option but to travel. The game was finally called off around noon.

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Offaly football manager John Maughan: 'The dogs in the street knew the conditions in Salthill were going to be deplorable'. Photo: Sportsfile

Offaly football manager John Maughan: 'The dogs in the street knew the conditions in Salthill were going to be deplorable'. Photo: Sportsfile

Offaly football manager John Maughan: 'The dogs in the street knew the conditions in Salthill were going to be deplorable'. Photo: Sportsfile

Arguably, Sunday's entire programme should have been abandoned en bloc because of the weather.

Granted, the Limerick County Board came up with an innovative solution when the Gaelic Grounds were unplayable for their Division 3 tie against Louth.

It was switched to the University of Limerick's 4G pitch - I imagine it was the first inter-county league game played on an artificial pitch.

There was a less satisfactory outcome to the Leitrim v London game, which was switched from Carrick-on-Shannon to the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence.

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I watched a live TV feed of the match, and the weather conditions turned the game into a complete lottery.

I'm at a loss as to why the game wasn't moved indoors to the Dome, which is on the same site.

Perhaps, they were getting ready for Congress there this weekend and my Groundhog Day feeling comes because we have been down this path before.

The last time the Allianz League was played in February two storms caused havoc on separate weekends.

Storm Ciara resulted in the Division 1 tie between Kerry and Tyrone being moved from Healy Park to Edendork - where the pitch was just as unplayable as it was in Omagh.

Two weeks later, Storm Jorge caused more disruptions. The Kerry v Mayo game scheduled for Castlebar was postponed for 24 hours.

Once again, Healy Park was the centre of a controversy and the Tyrone v Dublin game went ahead after three pitch inspections.

Not alone was the pitch unplayable - it was actually unsafe to be in the ground because of the conditions.

The GAA hasn't learned any lessons.

They now face a potential nightmare scenario, given there is only one free weekend available, next Saturday and Sunday, on which to play postponed games.

What happens if there is another weekend storm?

I hate to say I told you so, but for weeks now I have been drumming on about the daftness of the GAA's new fixture schedule which sees all inter-county games being played in the first seven months of the year.

Drilling into the details reveals how unbalanced it all is.

Forty per cent of all inter-county games are being played in January and February and by the end of April three quarters of county games will have taken place, and this figure will be 92 per cent by the end of May.

There are just 33 county games pencilled in for all of June and July, whereas there were some 189 scheduled for January and February - and this figure doesn't include the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup matches, which are as close to inter-county level as makes no difference.

As Fr Dougal used to say in Fr Ted - 'that's mad, Ted'.

It occurred to me last weekend that if the GAA want to play matches in the worst possible weather conditions they might at least consider playing four quarters with the teams changing sides in order to try to mitigate the impact of the weather.

The task facing referees last weekend was nearly impossible, so I will give them a pass. But I have detected a worrying trend.

Every team is now hellbent on keeping possession, carrying the ball and deploying some form of blanket defence.

Inevitably, this results in players bringing the ball into contact more often.

Dozens of these scenarios develop in every game - basically, the ball-carrier is surrounded by three or four opponents, tackled, and fouled in my opinion.

But, nine times out of ten, the referee will penalise the player in possession for over-carrying.

In general, the football referees have started to copy their hurling colleagues, by blowing up for only every third foul.

Another area which needs to be tidied up before the championship is the application of the rules concerning penalty-taking.

This year every championship game will be decided on the day, with the exception of the All-Ireland final.

All hell will break loose if a team exits the championship because the opposition goalkeeper got away with moving off his line and saving a penalty during the shoot-out.

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Rian O'Neill

Rian O'Neill

Rian O'Neill

It is illegal but happens all the time - Rory Beggan came off his line to save Rian O'Neill's (above) penalty last weekend in the Monaghan v Armagh game. (Actually, we don't know for sure whether he saved it as the TV pictures were inconclusive).

Finally, there is still a lack of consistency about the application of the black card, though I accept its introduction has reduced the incidents of cynical play.

Last weekend, for example, Monaghan's Dessie Ward was black-carded for allegedly pulling down Armagh's Rory Grugan in the parallelogram.

It was a penalty as Ward did pull his jersey but, as we illustrated on TV on Sunday night, it wasn't a black-card offence, as Grugan was holding Ward's hand and then threw himself to the ground.

The decision probably cost Monaghan victory.

Ward's dismissal meant they were down to 13 men and Armagh scored 1-2 when he was in the sin bin.

The previous night in Croke Park Mayo's Ryan O'Donoghue received just a yellow card for a body check on Dublin's John Small, which was a definite black-card offence.

PS: One rule change I omitted to include in my list of measures to improve Gaelic football last Sunday was the outlawing of points scored via the hand.

It is a low-risk option and it would be preferable to have a six-point goal instead as it would encourage players to be more adventurous.

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