Martin McHugh likens football to rugby league: ‘You could have gone to sleep’

Former All-Ireland winner calls for rule change after Letterkenny IT-UCD game

Former Donegal All-Ireland winner and Ulster winning manager with Cavan, Martin McHugh, is extremely critical of modern football as a spectacle, saying it is like rugby league, and he has called for a minimum of three attacking players to be obliged to remain within their opponents’ 45-metre line.

He was speaking at Wednesday's launch of the Allianz Football League, which took place in Croke Park with a virtual press conference at which McHugh – who played in the league final in 1993, the first year of the sponsorship, then as Royal Liver – and his son, current Donegal player Ryan, were present.

Martin McHugh said that he had been at Letterkenny IT’s defeat of UCD on Tuesday.

“I just happened to be at a Sigerson game last night and we had 40 basically intercounty players playing a game on a perfect night, on a perfect pitch . . . and the game ended 0-7 to 0-6. I think it was 0-2 to 0-1 at half-time. At the Derry-Donegal second-half of the McKenna Cup game, you could have gone to sleep.


“That’s just the way football is. People say it’s going like rugby league; it definitely is the way it’s being played.

“Looking at it – all these tactics, defensive football and the way they play and everything else – from a tactical point of view, I think clubs are following county football and I think club football is terrible to watch.

“They’re trying to copy the county teams and they’re not capable of doing it because they haven’t got the players to do it. So I think definitely, Gaelic football, if people are going to be paying money in to watch it or stream it and everything else, is at a crossroads.

“If you’re big into tactics [fine] but 1 per cent will study all that end of it. The other 98 or 99 per cent just go for enjoyment; we want to see goals. That definitely has gone out of Gaelic football at the minute.


“I would say if you keep three players inside the 45 at all stages – you have to keep three players up the field, [adjudicated by] linesmen. You know people say it would be hard to police that at club level and everything else but I think clubs will follow what intercounty teams do and it will be easy enough for a referee in a club game.

“A lot of people have agreed with me when I’ve said it. I think we need to do something about it.”

He also expressed shock at news that five panellists had walked away from All-Ireland champions Tyrone. At the weekend, Tiernan McCann joined Ronan O'Neill, Mark Bradley, Hugh Pat McGeary and Michael Cassidy in quitting the county.

“Everyone wants to start and it is very hard for managers to keep players happy. Looking back at it, Tiernan McCann came on against Donegal and scored three points from play and made a big difference. Mark Bradley, Monaghan people will tell you was the reason Monaghan were beaten in the first half. He destroyed them in the first half. I managed him in Jordanstown and he is a fabulous player and his movement is unreal.

“Hugh Pat McGeary played a lot of games and Ronan O’Neill would make a lot of counties. It’s a loss and it’s surprising to see players leave that are not a big age and after winning an All-Ireland. I’m a bit shocked at that.”

Asked about Dublin's prospects, he quoted former Dublin player and UCD coach Ger Brennan, who he met at Tuesday's Sigerson match.

“He was saying to me, when you have players of the quality of Paul Mannion, Jack McCaffrey, Stephen Cluxton and Diarmuid Connolly – you just can’t replace them. They are once in a lifetime players, come along and you can’t replace them.

“That sums it up.”

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times