Dean Rock answers readers’ questions: Rule changes, balancing kids’ game time and more

Our analyst answers readers’ questions about the 2019 All-Ireland final, a potential rule change, how to balance children’s sporting workload, what to do about the scheduling of the All-Ireland final and the future of the provincial championships

On the way up to the All-Ireland final in 2019 I lost my ticket, I had to watch the match in a pub in Summerhill. Thankfully, I didn’t make same mistake for the replay. In the closing minutes of the final, with Jonny Cooper sent off, when Dublin were a point down and had missed three chances to equalise, did you feel we are going to lose this and not do the five-in-a-row? Paul Kenny, Dublin 24,

“I suppose we would have trained ourselves for those different scenarios, throughout the years. If we were a couple of points down, a few minutes to go, and needed to orchestrate a score. So there wasn’t any sense of panic.

“Naturally enough you do feel the tension in the stadium, there was a lot on the line in terms of that five-in-a-row. You could feel that transcend on to the pitch a little bit.

“But we’d exposed ourselves to those scenarios in training all year, built up the knowledge in terms of what to do, in those clutch situations. There’s also a lot of trust in your team-mates, that we will eventually find a way.


“So we just kept to out principles of play, keep doing what we were asked to do by the management team. There was no one going on solo runs, guys were taking shots because they were in the best positions. We stuck to the game plan, managed to get that equalising score and force the replay. And the rest is history.

“You also learn from experiences before, in terms of the overall team and also as an individual player, like the other battles with Kerry and Mayo over the years, we just kept our cool. Thankfully it all came together.”

What is the one rule change you would introduce to improve the game from an attacker’s point of view? Anonymous

“It’s hard to say, because I think the game is mostly fine as it is. Potentially there is something to be said for making sure you have to keep two forwards inside the 45m line at all times, and two defenders. What that means is if you win early turnovers, there is potential to get quick ball into maybe two of your most dangerous forwards. And there’s also potential for more one-on-ones, and open spaces for goals.

“And obviously when teams are transitioning up the pitch, it might allow for more space and more scores in that sense too. And less players behind the ball, which I think a lot of people are calling out.

“By keeping those four players inside the 45m line, two forwards and two defenders, it could result in better opportunities for the forwards to take on their man and get goals. Instead of when teams drop everyone back and you’ve just loads of men in front of you. That is possibly something that could help the game, with the linesmen monitoring that, so it doesn’t put any more pressure on the referee. It might be worth a trial in the league anyway, or one of the preseason competitions.

“Some teams are trying to do that now anyway, trying to keep men high like that. But if it was a set rule, I think it could potentially lend itself to more kick passes as well. I certainly would mind it as a forward, even if you might be left standing there for a while, I think the scores would come quicker if there were only 13 players behind the ball. And maybe less holding on to the ball.”

Dean, my son is 14 and good at all sports. This year he has been selected for a number of teams, which is great, but where is the protection for the child if they are doing too much? He has competed in 22 full matches/training sessions in 28 days. That is also excluding secondary school matches. We had to stop him taking part in anything for three days this week, due to burn out. Where is the safety for the child in this? Is this the reason why so many children are dropping out of sports once they reach secondary school? Gareth Walsh, Carlow

“I can only speak from my own experience here, and when I was growing up, I played as much sport as I possibly could. Gaelic football, soccer and rugby. And I think that’s still very important for young kids to play as many different sports as possible, or as they would like.

“So I did that up to age 17 and 18, but then maybe the demands on underage sports then wasn’t as intense as they are now. I do think it’s got a lot more intense for teams at all levels now, across all different sports.

“The biggest thing is to have that transparency and conversation between the player and the manager, just sitting down and talking through the different schedules with the different sports. The rugby coach mightn’t necessarily know that you’re also playing Gaelic in football and soccer and maybe hurling too, all in the same week.

“But looking at that scenario – 22 matches or training in 28 days – that’s obviously not sustainable, that’s going to result in burnout. Of course you don’t want to prevent your kids from playing either, but there has to be a balance, and maybe when they get to age 15 or 16, start to chose one or two sports only.

“When I was playing Dublin minor and still playing senior cup rugby, I was always communicating with my coaches, that’s how I managed it. I was quite open around that from an early age.

“The players can sometimes get quite stressed about it too, feel like they’re letting people down, but they need to be told that’s okay. The parent has a role to play too, and sometimes might have to intervene on the child’s behalf, but that again shouldn’t be an issue as long as it’s done in an open and transparent way.”

Dean, as a former intercounty and current club player, you have a good perspective of the demands around the split season. For many years there was the tradition of the All-Ireland final on the third Sunday in September and the club final on St Patrick’s Day, essentially a six-month gap between both dates. Is this six-month split manageable for club players or is the current calendar that compresses the intercounty championship into three months necessary? Jim Barry, Dublin

“As a player I got to experience the traditional September All-Ireland final, and then more recently the July All-Ireland final, but I understand the GAA are in a difficult position now, trying to get that split-season balance right.

“Back in my early days, we’d be waiting three or four or sometimes five weeks in between championship games, and most players will say they hated that. I didn’t mind it, although the long wait between games was an issue at times. The schedule now is perfect, two weeks between games, the odd back-to-back week is brilliant too.

“Then you look at this month, lots of games are coming on top of other, so you’re missing out on some of the best games. Football and hurling. And it’s competing against the end of the Premier League and the European rugby cup, so I think the GAA is losing out on the exposure there.

“I always loved the All-Ireland club finals on St Patrick’s Day too, it just felt unique, way bigger crowds in Croke Park as well. That’s also lost a lot, even though club players might prefer playing that earlier.

“One thing that’s worth considering is pushing it all back to the end of August. Space it out that way, rather that squeeze all the finals in July. And if the club championship started in September, I think most people would see that as ideal, and I think the GAA has the leverage to do that.

“Last year, there just didn’t feel like much of a build-up to the All-Ireland, which was strange. And I definitely think from the supporters perspective, we’ve lost an edge in that regard.”

Hello Dean, delighted to put a question to a football legend – and as a Kerryman you did break our hearts on a few occasions! My question is the burning dilemma in the GAA football arena: how can we reform the GAA football championship? Is the provincial championship at death’s door? Leinster and Munster are cases in point. I feel the attempts to restructure the championship through the round-robin format, whilst admirable, are doomed to failure. My solution? A streamlined All-Ireland championship based on Division One and Two placings. Harsh maybe but realistic. We have been calling for a revamp in Kerry for years and would welcome it. What do you think? Michael Costello, Cork

“Again, I can only speak from my own experience here, and I’ve already said that for me, the Leinster football championship feels like it’s dead in the water. That’s been well documented.

“At the same time we saw last weekend in the Connacht football final, the massive joy that meant to Galway, and even the Munster final, the Kerry-Clare game had a bit of atmosphere, and Clare were definitely competitive as well. Ulster we know is always very competitive.

“So the big problem is Leinster, and because of Dublin’s dominance over the last decade or so, people have lost interest. That’s not reason enough the get rid of the provincial championship, because they do still have a place, but they could be a bit smarter in how they freshen it up, definitely play more of the games in provincial grounds, in neutral venues, and abandon the whole Croke Park thing.

“The Dublin players themselves have publicly acknowledged they’d love to go on the road more, maybe even look again at trying a Friday evening game. Just freshen it up. The results might be the same, for a few more years, you don’t know when the tide will turn.

“After that, I think the issue with the round-robin format is that three teams still qualify. If only two progressed, straight away the competitiveness of those games would go up, and there would be more demand to see them. Realistically, you could hazard a good guess as to which three teams will go through, so things won’t really kick of until a quarter-final, or semi-final.

“That’s the scenario the GAA have set up for themselves, but I think something will have to give.”