Do you know who my favourite soccer player is of all time? You could be here a while. He operated long before I was born. My dad had watched him live when working in England. Every second Saturday, down at White Hart Lane. My Dad was an Arsenal fan but it was a Spurs forward who’s brilliance was impossible to ignore. I grew up hearing stories about how good he was. “He would pass the ball to the net,” my dad would say. My protestations that Ian Wright was just as good were waved away with the disdain that I now realise they deserve.

One Christmas morning I became a believer. A video tape unwrapped of the Jimmy Greaves Story. Brian Moore interviewed Greaves with footage of his goals interspersed. He was different gravy as they say. Lightening quick coupled with a calmness in the box that simply set him apart. For those of you scoffing put ‘The Jimmy Greaves Story’ into YouTube, sit and watch it for an hour and ten minutes and come back and tell me I’m wrong.

Anyway, what has the greatest goal scorer of all time got to do with a GAA column. We are getting there. Greaves was top scorer in the English top flight six times. His first was in 1958/59 when at Chelsea and his last was in 68/69 for Tottenham.

In one season for Chelsea he banged in 41 goals. The last time he was top scorer he scored 27.

Looking at players who finished as top scorers in the 1950’s and early 60’s the goals tally is regularly in the mid to late-30’s. Fast forward to the late 60’s and 70’s and that figure has fallen to early to mid-20’s.

Why? Had players simply got worse? Of course not. The tactics changed, and the formation changed. That is what happened. Most teams favoured a sort of 3-2-2-3 formation in the 50’s and early 60’s. Inside forwards, wingers and a centre forward were attackers. Half backs and full backs the five men charged with protecting the house. Kinda hard to get your head around now, isn’t it?

The mid to late 60’s saw the 4-4-2 formation dominate coaches and managers tactics. And with it came a vast reduction in the goal scoring chances and as a result, goals. Greaves talks about it in the documentary and it is telling stuff.

In many ways what we have seen in Gaelic football over the past number of years, in philosophy at least, mirrors what happened with the emergence of the 4-4-2.

Coaches and managers are now looking at the game differently. The best way to defend is now seen as the building block. Ironically, we have not seen a reduction in scores, but we have seen the game change in its dynamic. The one on one battle forwards and defenders used to enjoy are gone and I will be the first to admit that as a spectator I prefer the way the game was ten to 15 years ago.

As a corner forward, I can’t imagine what the game is like to play now, I would imagine frustrating and mind numbing in equal measure.

But here is the thing, what we have seen in the past number of years, in terms of coaching, is an evolution and an evolutionary leap at that. People might not like it but that is what it is. The proposed rule changes are attempting to deal with some of the symptoms of this evolutionary change, but they will not change the philosophy of managers and coaches.

For people who want a return to the style of play of 15 to 20 years ago I am afraid you are going to be disappointed. It will never happen, no matter what rule changes are made. The game has changed. We have had our 4-4-2 moment and we can’t turn back.

If decision makers double down and insist on implementing either the mark or the three hand pass rule we will see a more negative spectacle develop. With a desire to avoid turnovers and stop players getting free shots for points from marks we will see coaches become more conservative in their thinking. That would be ironic now wouldn’t it. As Jimmy would say; it’s a funny old game.


Heaven and earth need to be moved for sports development at Necarne

News broke a few weeks back that Fermanagh GAA were hoping to collaborate with local soccer, rugby and athletics organisations to create a multi-purpose sports facility at Necarne, pictured right.

That would be fantastic. The only problem is that the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, in a statement to this paper, said that the sports organisations are a little late to the party - I’m paraphrasing before anyone from the Council gets on the blower.

The basic gist of the statement was that the Council are nearing the end of a pretty long process concerning the future use of Necarne and that they have a preferred bidder, in the shape of Gardum, who “has expended considerable time, effort and resources to date on developing proposals for a multi-use tourism, outdoor activity, recreation and event centre” according to the Council statement.

The Council said it would be “inequitable” to consider other uses for Necarne at this time. They also said that they had “previously had some limited engagement from sporting representatives in connection with speculative development proposals… These engagements took place after the open expressions of interest process, instigated by the Council, had closed”. All that is a nice way of saying “you didn’t have your ducks in a row lad and we aren’t for stopping the whole show now.”

However, there was a chink of light when the statement finished with “there may be scope for sports development within the scheme that is in development.”

Heaven and earth need to be moved to try and make this happen. The sports organisations need to do everything they can to make it happen. And they need to tell us all what they are doing to make it happen.

An open collective push from all sporting organisations will gain public support for what would be a tremendous resource for Fermanagh sports people.

I know very little about the Gardum proposal for the future use of Necarne but I do know that Necarne is a massive site. No ink is dried yet and there is surely a way to make everything happen to everyone’s benefit.

From the GAA point of view state of the art facilities are badly needed. Lissan is an asset and has been the friend for many a club who has needed it to train on but there is also a reason that successive Fermanagh senior football managers have chosen to set up base elsewhere, for at least part of the football season.

Necarne seems the perfect site for a truly modern sporting facility and it seems equally perfect that the GAA should collaborate with other sporting organisations. But, all involved need to be quick about it.