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9 December 1999 Edition

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Rule 21 debate alive and kicking

By Dan O'Neill

So the GAA's infamous Rule 21 is a dead cert to be deleted at next April's Congress in Galway according to Martin Breheny's `exclusive' in the Ireland on Sunday on November 21. Finally, that unique double of owning a George Cross and an All-Ireland medal might be a possibility after all.

The abolition of Rule 21 would be a fitting finale to the Presidency of Joe McDonagh, whose untimely attempt to abolish the rule failed at Congress last year.

McDonagh and some others in the GAA hierarchy have seen the rule which bans members of the crown forces from participating in Gaelic games as an embarrassment to the organisation which was criticised as being impervious to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

According to some quarters of the media, by remaining tight-lipped on any response to the publication of the Patten Report, the GAA was blowing it's chance to ``prove a force of conciliation''.

There should, however, be no inclination on the part of the GAA to abolish Rule 21 given nationalist unease with the proposals put forward by Patten, which have fallen short of the promised new beginning to policing in the Good Friday Agreement.

Sinn Féin this week has expressed particular concern about how the British government will handle the unionist demands in relation to the name of any new police service and its symbols. There was also regret that the commission firmly refused to pass judgement on the RUC's past record or provide any mechanism for dealing with individual abusive officers.

A failure to ban the use of plastic bullets and inadequate target levels for Catholic representation in any new policing service are other worrying aspects of the Patten Commission's findings.

These fears will be on the minds of delegates in the run up to next year's Congress and until we really have a police force that in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, is impartial and representative of all section of the community, and until the harassment of members of the GAA by the crown forces ends the Rule 21 debate will not have gone away ya know, Joe!

Tough draw for McCarthy's men

It seems that late equaliser by Macedonia in Stopje in October has come back to haunt Mick McCarthy again. Goran Stavrevski's header not only denied Ireland a place in this summer's Euro 2000, but also made the task of qualifying for the 2002 World Cup much more difficult.

Failure to reach the European finals meant that McCarthy's men were in Pot C for the World Cup draw in Tokyo on Tuesday, rather than the easier draw of Pot B. This meant that Ireland was drawn against Holland and Portugal, two very good sides, in Group 2 of the qualifiers. We shouldn't have too much to worry about regarding the other sides in the group. Cyprus, Andorra and Estonia are hardly giants of the European football scene but Ireland have a daunting task ahead. Only the group winners will qualify for the World Cup outright with the runners-up having to face a play-off to reach the finals.

It's difficult to be positive about the draw. There's no doubt that Holland and Portugal are among the best in Europe at the moment. Although we have a good record at home under McCarthy, I would worry about our ability to take points off the top sides when travelling, especially if we employ the tactics of the Croatia and Macedonia games where we seemed to defend for the whole game, rarely creating any chances.

It would be a major achievement if we reached the finals and it would be nice to settle some old scores against the Dutch who knocked us out of the World Cup in 1994 and similarly, ended our hopes of reaching Euro `96 with that play-off win at Anfield. But Mick McCarthy can only play the card he is dealt and the reality is that, with so many first division players involved in our squad, we are short of the quality needed to beat the best in Europe. Maybe it is time to get rid of some of the dead wood in the Irish team and bring in some of the talented youngsters available to McCarthy. Stephen McPhail of Leeds and Michael Reddy of Sunderland, (who according to Peter Reid is the most outstanding youngster he has worked with) are two excellent prospects and should be given their chance. We have nothing to lose after Tuesday's tough draw!

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