5 July 2013 No Comments by The Northern Standard


It’s a possession game; it’s all about keeping the ball” was the succinct response from Monaghan captain Owen Lennon when quizzed immediately after their Ulster Senior Football Championship semi-final victory over Cavan in Clones on Saturday night about Rory Beggan’s late escape from a possible over-carrying infringement. And the Latton talisman’s words are also the perfect description of modern Gaelic football. When I last returned to the pages of the Standard to write about a Monaghan victory (the defeat of then All-Ireland champions Armagh in 2003), I reflected that Gaelic football had changed more in the previous decade than in the century before. In fact, most of those changes were off the field, while in the decade since the game itself has changed almost beyond recognition.

Early on in the game, as Cavan worked the ball out of defence with a series of lateral hand passes and Monaghan retreated to halfway in a defensive line, it became clear to me that the protective hurling glove sported by Tommy Bowe and Dick Clerkin was not the only similarity between the morning’s Lions v Australia rugby union second test and the Clones derby clash. The emphasis on maintaining ball possession is so advanced that the game is getting closer and closer to rugby. I’m aware that it is a not a novel observation – Martin McHugh remarked that Gaelic football is becoming like rugby league while Colm O’Rourke refers to a “continuous rolling maul” – but even the language now used in Gaelic football has echoes of the oval-ball game: turnovers, off-loads, breaking tackles, line breaks.

The paradigm shift that saw …

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