The new football playing rules passed at Congress come into force this weekend and that’s one of the reasons why referee Maurice Deegan will be very much in the spotlight when he takes charge of the Derry v Armagh Ulster Championship clash at Celtic Park on Sunday.
Deegan, who hails from Laois, has handled a number of top-flight fixtures in the past and is now of just eighteen referees who will be assigned to cover all 60-plus matches in the Championship.
This opening Ulster showpiece fixture will be the first major tie to be played under the new rules meaning that the players and referee will find themselves under considerable pressure to adapt successfully to the format.
Last year a number of controversial decisions, particularly in the closing stages of the All Ireland series, caused embarrassment to the GAA and steps have been taken to prevent a possible repetition of this.
Only last weekend the eighteen football referees and ten hurling referees, who will be assigned to Championship duties, undertook further rigorous physical tests at Dublin City University under the direction of Dr Niall Moyna.
The officials were also subjected to a thorough examination of their up to date rules knowledge at Croke Park during a day-long seminar at which the emphasis was placed on the actual application of the rules.
It is understood that many of the referees, including a number from Ulster including Pat McEnaney, Jimmy White and Martin Sludden, revealed exceptional levels of physical fitness.
And many of the refs complemented that with an in-depth knowledge of the rules as they are now framed.
Among the main elements of the new rules are the introduction of the 11-metre penalty, the 13-metre kick-out, a marked underarm striking action when executing the hand pass and the application of the ‘official’ advantage law, a ban on players being charged when in the act of kicking the ball.
Also shoulder-to-shoulder as opposed to side-to-side challenges, players now prohibited from going outside the boundary lines in order to gain an advantage when taking sideline frees, throw-ins by the referee to resume play to be taken 13 metres in from the sideline and extra-time to be played in all championship matches.