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Comment: Why rule changes may spell disaster for GAA

Changing times: Chairman of the Standing Committee on Playing Rules, David Hassan, speaks at Croke Park yesterday
Changing times: Chairman of the Standing Committee on Playing Rules, David Hassan, speaks at Croke Park yesterday
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

A camel is a horse designed by committee, goes the famous saying, prone to overuse in the GAA.

And so it was with one of the new rules that is set to come into Gaelic football in a few weeks' time.

At the beginning, there was a kickout rule proposed. Just four men would be allowed to stand between the 45 metre lines and compete for a high ball kicked out with nobody else allowed to come inside that area.

Think about it - 4,950 square metres of prime real estate to make a run into and the players would be expected to stand as still as Subbuteo figures until the time came to leap into the air.

And that's presuming the goalkeeper could get it that far. In the Monaghan final, Scotstown goalkeeper Rory Beggan, who could probably boot me the length of the Clones pitch if a breeze was in his favour, had a kickout catch in the wind and it didn't cross the 45 metre line.

So that suggestion was scrapped, and they came back with the next idea.

The kickout would be moved up to the 20 metre mark and still had to cross the 45 metre line, but with no restriction of player numbers.

Therefore, managers already worked out that all their players would retreat behind the 45 metre line and create absolute chaos.

Realising this was unworkable, a communiqué was sent out saying that the rule was once again to be adapted.

At one of the meetings of the Standing Committee of Playing Rules, somebody must have sat there as holes were being driven through their ideas and asked, 'What are we left with, lads?'

'The kickout moving up seven metres…'

'Grand. It'll do.'

There's a right bit of that attitude around these changes. A sense that 'something needs to be done' to save Gaelic football from itself. To make sure the 'core skills of the game are preserved'.

I wonder what planet these people live on?

I am on the side of Darren Hughes who, when asked his view on the initial proposal, fired back: "It's embarrassing for some of the rules committee that they went to print. It was embarrassing to even read it. But for them to sit down and waste time, and to let that go to print…"

This is the bit I fail to understand. These proposals are not exclusively from seasoned GAA administrators. Chair of the Committee, David Hassan of Derry, has played to county standard.

Brian Cuthbert has spent years managing the Cork footballers. They are not out-of-touch relics preserved in the deep web of Croke Park to staff these committees.

How they could not foresee the problems of some proposals are inconceivable. Top of the list is the restriction on handpasses to a maximum of three.

There was an acknowledgement that the growth of handpassing was turning people off the game. So they decided the only way to buck the trend was to drive it underground - treating a symptom rather than diagnosing the cause.

With defences heavily staffed, a handpass is the ideal way to get a runner or an overlap going. This is how Michael Farragher's goal for Corofin was achieved in the All-Ireland Club final, and rightly ranks among the greatest goals of the year.

Presumably that kind of handpassing is fine, but what frustrates fans is the kind of 'keep-ball' handpassing that we saw Dublin instigate on numerous occasions this summer, or the farcical end to the first half when Slaughtneil played Magherafelt a few months ago.

One simple way to counter it would have been to introduce the half-court rule from basketball, where once you enter the opponent's half you cannot bring the ball back into your own. I don't know if they considered this.

We could go on. The sin bin rule is not without its charms. The sideline ball that has to travel forward is a farce if you get a sideline 15 metres from the endline, leading the opposition to bring everyone into that area.

There just seems to have been a lack of care put into the process. The previous Standing Committee, chaired by Jarlath Burns, took three years to implement two changes.

The changes made to the kickout made it one of the most exciting tactical developments in the game, with teams coming up with several different strategies.

One thing they didn't do under Burns' watch was mess with the best competition in Gaelic football - the league.

Across the Dr McKenna Cup, the FBD League, the O'Byrne and the McGrath Cups, 47 games in total will be played; a huge sample size to see what is working and what is not.

Instead, they want all that, and 116 more games in the league.

A sledgehammer to crack a nut, indeed.

Belfast Telegraph


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