Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Joe Kernan: No revolution but rules do need to be tweaked

Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh (left) in an aerial dual with Monaghan's Owen Lennon

Over the course of the past two years in particular there has been ongoing speculation, debate and controversy about changes to the playing rules.

Indeed, it seems that after every major championship match in which a contentious incident takes place or a dubious call is made by a referee the clamour goes up to have a rule or rules amended.

Yet the process of formally amending or altering completely any of the playing rules as they are currently enshrined in the Official Guide can be a complex and long drawn-out matter.

There is even a feeling abroad that the GAA is now prepared to tamper with the rules for the sake of tampering with them but I think this is an unfair insinuation.

Gaelic football may not be perfect — indeed, its perceived shortcomings are being highlighted more and more — but it is still a noble product that, played in the right spirit against a positive background, can rest on a par with any sport in the world.

Of course, there is no room for complacency and this is one of the main reasons why the Standing Rules Committee is one of the more active components within the Association right now.

Yet while there remains a school of thought which would insist that a magic wand could be waved and any grey areas pertaining to the rules would be banished, this committee is slowly and carefully considering the implications of making any changes — and this is the right way in which to approach this matter.

The make-up of the committee suggests to me that the GAA is profoundly serious in its bid to improve the game.

The GAA Director General Paraic Duffy is among several high-profile members on the committee. Others are Kilkenny hurling boss Brian Cody, Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney, GPA chief executive Dessie Farrell, GPA chairman Donal Og Cusack, Mick Curley, the National Referees’ Committee chairman; Pat Daly, GAA Games Development Manager; GAA President Christy Cooney; Liam O’Neill, incoming president; Seamus Woods, the CCCC chairman and Cork secretary Frank Murphy.

These are people with a sharp insight into what is needed to improve gaelic football and one area in particular which requires addressing is the stop-start nature of the sport because of the fact that so many fouls, many of them of the cynical variety, are being committed on an ongoing basis.

Even Paraic Duffy admits that reducing the number of fouls in gaelic football must become a priority and the committee is due to make recommendations to next year’s Congress in terms of aspects of the playing rules.

There is a strong element of cynicism prevalent within the game now and I have no hesitation in making two proposals which I feel, if implemented, would not only speed up the sport but make it more appealing to the eye.

The first is that there should be no more than three consecutive hand-passes delivered by a team and the second is that a ‘mark’ should be awarded for a clean, high catch in the middle third of the park.

Some county teams are absolutely obsessed with hand-passing and the sooner this is restricted the better while the art of the high catch is being eroded simply because players are being afforded no protection when they gain possession in this manner.

Here in Ulster we have some of the best fielders in gaelic football — Enda Muldoon (Derry), Sean Cavanagh (Tyrone), Dan Gordon (Down) and David McKenna (Armagh) — but they are often buffeted and squeezed to such an extent that their aerial ability is all but completely nullified.

The awarding of a ‘mark’ for a high catch would certainly reward one of the great skills of the game and limit fouling in the middle of the park.

I am all in favour, too, of players being allowed to take a quick free. Indeed, I would urge that the rules committee look closely at the practice of players hindering or impeding another player who is trying to take a quick free.

To combat this, I would penalise such an offence by awarding the free from a much more advantageous scoring position rather than from where the initial offence was committed.

This would certainly serve as a warning to sides which persistently transgress in this way. As is the case in rugby, the team going forward should enjoy every advantage and in this way games would surely become more positive and adventurous.

Cynical fouling — Kildare shot themselves in the foot big-time in this regard in extra-time of their All-Ireland clash with Donegal — can often prove a team’s undoing.

A surprisingly high number of referees still remain blithely unaware of just what constitutes cynical fouling and I would hope that the rules committee will now make the kind of recommendations which might effectively further sanitise our game.

Should they achieve this, then they will have done the sport a great service and will greatly increase the enjoyment which spectators will derive from games.

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