HomeFootballGolden score a better option than a penalty shoot-out in Gaelic football

Golden score a better option than a penalty shoot-out in Gaelic football


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It is hard to argue against penalty shoot-outs in terms of drama.

In the modern world where our concentration levels can wander during a prolonged period of possession by a team in any sport, penalty shoot-outs remain a reliable quick, instant hit of sporting excitement. The entire game gets reduced to this bite-sized spectacle – guaranteed to produce heroes and villains.

There is an immediate emotional payback for the viewer. For the protagonists standing in the middle of the pitch awaiting their moment to step forward, they occupy a place in a sort of fleeting sporting purgatory – knowing what awaits the other side of kicking a piece of leather will be either heaven or hell.

That is why, when scrolling through social media on a random Thursday night last month, on noticing a post saying Marseille’s Europa League quarter-final against Benfica was going to penalties, we spent the next few minutes furiously searching online to try to find live coverage of the shoot-out. Not because of any attachment to either club involved, but rather because it promised unscripted drama, in real time.

And there can be no denying the scenes at the end of Donegal’s shoot-out win over Armagh in Clones on Sunday were among some of the most colourful and emotional of the 2024 football championship so far.

But it has again raised the question as to whether penalty shoot-outs are an appropriate way to win a provincial final, or indeed any Gaelic football match?

It is, of course, one of the consequences of the condensed split season – there simply isn’t any room for replays in the current intercounty calendar. So, unless the season is extended, matches need to produce a winner on the day.

One of the main arguments against penalties in Gaelic football is that the discipline of penalty taking is not necessarily seen as a skill of the game. In fact, whisper it, it is seen as a skill of soccer. Tut, tut.

It’s quite the about-turn the GAA has pulled off here – from years of getting jeered as the Grab All Association because of its perceived endless cycle of money-spinning replays to now deciding its matches by the ways of the garrison game.

Perhaps a time will come when tweaks to the system will provide several more weeks for the championship to breathe, and with that will come the opportunity at least for matches with silverware on the line to be replayed.

However, the GAA is still going to need a winner on the day system and while penalties currently provide a quick endgame, there are other avenues that could be considered.

In the 1990s, Major League Soccer in United States trialled an ice hockey-inspired tiebreaker instead of traditional penalties – it had been used previously in the North American Soccer League in the 1970s.

Just as in ice hockey, where players skate forward with the puck, one v one against the goaltender, the MLS had a 35-yard shoot-out where a player ran forward with only the goalkeeper to beat.

A Gaelic footballer carrying the ball forward from somewhere between the 20-45 metre lines and going one v one against the goalkeeper would be a scenario more in keeping with Gaelic football than straight penalties.

However, of all the possible options – whether it be kicking 45s to a couple of shorter periods of extra-time – perhaps the golden score has the most potential for high drama while retaining the core disciplines of Gaelic football.

The GAA already has an advantage on many other sports when it comes to using a golden score because no one team has to start with possession – the throw-up in the middle of the field provides a fair battleground to commence the winner-takes-all play.

One of the potential drawbacks which has been mentioned concerning a golden score is concern around the oldest of Irish fascinations – the weather, or more specifically how wind could skew the balance in favour of one team.

And there is no getting away from the likelihood wind will be present more often than it will not – but then again teams already toss at the start of matches to determine which way to play, they prepare accordingly with regards to how they’ll set up, it is already part and parcel of the game.

But if wind is really seen as too much of a barrier, is there any merit in stipulating both teams are guaranteed a possession? That might overcomplicate it though because there is something pure and simple about just throwing the ball up and saying; “Next score wins”. It’s the sporting solution of our youth.

It was, we figured as kids, the fairest way to solve those endless matches which started in daylight and only ended in darkness after the grown-ups sent out word it was time for their children to return home. Next score wins, so.

Can you imagine the tension and drama in a golden score period? It would be captivating stuff.

Either way, all the players involved in Clones last Sunday deserve huge praise for the quality of the spot-kicks. Ten from ten.

It is both easy and credible to say penalties are not a GAA way to end Gaelic football matches.

But Jason McGee played underage soccer for Ireland while goalkeeper Shaun Patton played in the League of Ireland. Truth is, you don’t have to look hard inside intercounty dressingrooms to discover skills and talents players have amassed from playing various sports over the years.

A golden score would seem a more fitting, yet equally as dramatic, tiebreaker to a drawn Gaelic football match, but penalty shoot-outs are what we have right now – and you can’t argue Sunday in Clones wasn’t captivating.

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