What’s Happened the Games I Love?

In the dim and distant past , when I was in the prime of my life, I played all kinds of sport. At the weekend I would play rugby on Saturday, soccer on Sunday morning and Gaelic football or hurling in the afternoon. This was during my time in Coventry and I really enjoyed those games. Sometimes on a Saturday I would go over to Aston Villa to watch the top teams like Man United  playing. There were quite a few Irish players with English clubs in those days along with Scots and Welsh. Now it is all foreign players. It is not the survival of the fittest but the “survival of the wealthiest”. Absurd amounts of money is paid for little more than average players from all parts of the globe to the detriment of the home players. TV rights have filled the coffers of the Premier League clubs so money is no object for the privileged few. We  now have a handful of “super teams” who have the ability to dominate the game for the foreseeable future. There is great pressure to secure results and players have perfected the art of cheating to get free kicks or even more disgusting to try and get an opponent sent off. Not the sport I once played and loved. I have no doubt in my mind that the whole house of cards will eventually tumble and then maybe we will get back to sanity in the game.

I played scrum half and sometimes on the wing in my rugby days. I was 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed 10 stone 7 pounds. Would I have a chance on the field today? – not a hope. I would be swallowed by the giants who now occupy every position. Rugby has gone from a game of skill to a game of strength. In my day the idea was to avoid tackles by skilful footwork and pass or kick when there was no way through. Now the ball is taken into the tackle by choice. Crunching tackles are the norm for the whole 80 minutes. The players are conditioned for this by weight training and the use of substances that will eventually affect their health down the road. It is again the money in the game that has caused the problems. Win at all cost is the order of the day and if that means boring, negative tactics, so be it. Again not the game I loved to play.

Gaelic football is no longer the spectacle it once was. It is now a mixture of basketball and rugby with little emphasis on the traditional skills. I analysed a match recently and I came to the conclusion that every time a  player is in possession of the ball he is fowled. Is it legal to punch  players in the arms and elsewhere? Of course not but this is what happens. The man in possession is often surrounded by three or four players, pushed to the floor and prevented from getting up. No foul there according to referees. To be fair to them, if they blew for every infringement there would be little play. There is no defined tackle in Gaelic football. This needs to be corrected and there should also be something done about  hand passing which has destroyed the game. The problem lies with the “win at all costs” mentality by well paid managers who must produce the goods  or lose their jobs. I am lucky enough to have seen the game at its skilful best. Men like Mick O’Connell could pick the ball out of the clouds and deliver a kick pass of fifty yards or more. Bring those days back.

It is not all doom and gloom. Hurling, the best field game of them all, has gone from strength to strength and is breathtaking to watch. There is great rivalry but the games  are played in a sporting way and the days of the “hatchet man” seem to be over. We have been privileged to witness some of the greatest games of all time in the past couple of seasons and I can’t wait for the start of this year’s championship. This just might be Limerick’s year!


Domhnall de Barra