The recent national league match between Dublin and Derry generated quite a lot of debate regarding the use of negative tactics in Gaelic football. To surmise very quickly, the game finished 0-8, 0-4 in favour of Dublin, a final score which was one of the lowest (if not the lowest) between two inter-county teams in recent years. The reason for the low score was the highly defensive tactics used by both teams, essentially getting as many men behind the ball to prevent point/goal scoring opportunities.
Unfortunately the game and tactics used last weekend wasn’t a once off. Inter-county Gaelic football matches in recent seasons have been largely characterised by such an approach. To me, the game more resembles something like basketball where one team has possession and the other adopts a zone of defensive positions starting from their own 45’ year line to the own goal. The offensive team are then forced to pass across the 45’ year line until an opening occurs inside, very similar to basketball where players pass forward and back around the ‘key’ under an opportunity arises for a scoring play. It is okay in basketball because usually the team scores a basket. Unfortunately, in Gaelic football, more often than not, the team doesn’t score.
I have no doubt that something needs to be done to change the way the game is played. Some pundits think that the responsibility lies with GAA managers. They are the ones that are sending out their players to play in such a negative way so they are the ones that should be targeted. Joe Brolly is a particularly strong critic as illustrated by this interview. In the interview he dismisses the notion says that it is all about results and GAA mangers are obliged to refrain from ‘footballing myxomatosis’. Kevin McStay is another footballing pundit who was critical of the Derry manager on television last Sunday.
These pundits should learn from a basic economic principle however, that is, people respond to incentives. I think it’s very unfair to blame mangers and players whose ultimate job is to win matches, whatever way that they can, as long as it is within the rules of the game. The second part of the sentence is the crucial bit, change the rules and you change people’s incentives. Thankfully it appears that the Chairman of the GAA’s standing rules committee, Jarlath Burns, is on the same page as me. He stated the following in response to Brolly et al.’s criticisms “It’s not to managers that we should be looking, it’s up to ourselves and the association to protect the skills of the game and I suppose that’s what our standing committee on playing rules is going to be doing”. I wonder if Jarlath has had some training in Economics.