With one prominent Ulster county boss vehemently opposed to the new experimental playing rules to be introduced in the Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup and several others now understood to be harbouring reservations about the proposed changes, it’s not just the arctic weather that is currently cloaking the competition in uncertainty.
While Tyrone’s triple All Ireland winning manager Mickey Harte has nailed his colours firmly to the mast in his opposition to the rules and Derry supremo Damian Cassidy is now insisting they should have been introduced in lower level competitions on a trial basis rather than in a major provincial competition, there is growing apprehension that the rules may yet throw up more questions than answers.
Antrim manager Liam Bradley and Monaghan’s Seamus McEnaney, while prepared to adopt a wait and see approach, appear to be united in the belief that the rules could prove a source of confusion to players and referees.
Of particular concern to managers are the new rules governing the awarding of a ‘mark’ following the taking of a clean catch in the midfield zone from a kick-out if no advantage accrues to that player and the freedom which will now be afforded to forwards to enter the ‘square’ before the ball has arrived.
However, Carrickmore man Seamus Woods, who chaired the Football Playing Rules Committee that came up with the experimental rules, believes they will go some way towards enhancing the sport.
“The principle that underlined our discussions from day one was to propagate and promote the fundamentals of the game.
“In this respect, we feel that the restoration of the fisted pass, the option that the referee will have to award a ‘mark’ should he deem it necessary and the introduction of other elements are designed to help the flow and quality of gaelic football,” says Woods who is also chairman of the influential Central Competitions Control Committee.
Debate on the introduction of the ‘mark’ has been intense but Woods has moved to dispel what he believes is currently a misconception in this regard.
“There appears to be a conviction that the referee will automatically award a ‘mark’ when a player takes a clean catch in midfield. That is not the case,” explains Woods.
“The referee will only award a ‘mark’ when it becomes clear to him that no advantage will accrue to the player who takes the catch. It is worth pointing out that in the Blue Stars v Dublin Select game last weekend which was refereed very competently only one ‘mark’ needed to be awarded.”
Referees have already been briefed by National Referees Coordinator Pat Doherty on the experimental rules which were originally not to be implemented until the National League next month. However, in mid-December the four provincial Councils decided that they would like to introduce them into their various January competitions.
And while teething problems may be encountered, there is little doubt that the introduction of the rules will add an extra dimension to the McKenna Cup competition.
“Obviously the provincial Councils decided that bringing in the rules this month will allow the players to familiarise themselves with them earlier and this should prove an overall benefit.
“The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, of course, and we will have to monitor things and see how we go,” adds Woods who is a driving force within the thriving Ulster Colleges Council.