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Declan Bogue: How new laws could ruin the spectacle

Kicking out: Kerry ace David Clifford scores a point past Dublin’s David Byrne in the All-Ireland final replay
Kicking out: Kerry ace David Clifford scores a point past Dublin’s David Byrne in the All-Ireland final replay
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Back on March 16, Tyrone faced Dublin in round six of the National League in a repeat of the previous year’s All-Ireland final.

Mickey Harte’s men had a point to prove, and they did so by using the tools at their disposal. Placing Mattie Donnelly and especially Cathal McShane close to goal was evidence of their ambition.

Two strong ball-winners aided by exceptional deliveries from Richie Donnelly and Frank Burns, it meant they had the supply to turn in a rare victory over the Dubs, 1-14 to 1-11.

Their goal came from a Richie Donnelly pass to brother Mattie, who sent in a ball towards McShane. Defender Davy Byrne failed to cut it out and McShane calmly clipped it low past Stephen Cluxton.

Almost immediately, McShane added another when he rose over Byrne to claim a mark and pointed.

It was Dublin’s third consecutive defeat in the league, the first time that had happened under Jim Gavin, and it prompted the recall of Rory O’Carroll to the squad.

Good news? For Tyrone in any case. The rule that facilitated the offensive mark borrowed from Australian Rules was a major weapon for the Red Hands that evening. 

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The Standing Committee on Playing Rules felt that this was a rule change that would help the game and, while it was mothballed for the summer Championship, it gained a 68.9% vote at Saturday’s Special Congress to come into effect in every Gaelic football competition that isn’t already underway.

Their reasoning appears to be backed up by their supporting evidence and rationale.

It stated that the experimental rule “provided for a 24% increase in the number of kick passes in the game”, the comparison made between the 2019 league and the 2018 Championship. The number of average kick passes did indeed go from 107 to 132.

It continued: “It provided for the first reduction in the ratio of hand passing to foot passing in 10 seasons, meaning teams were inclined to kick the ball more and hand pass it less than had been the case for at least the last decade.”

If all of this sounds good, we have to bear in mind that there are clear in-built problems.

The first and most obvious is purely theory. A Gaelic football field is not clearly marked out to measure the 20m the ball must travel in order for it to pass the 45m mark and be caught by an attacking player for a mark.

The other is from a purely style point of view.

This year’s drawn All-Ireland final was held up as one of the best ever games of football. A feature of the match were the balls played into Kerry forward David Clifford and his duel with Johnny Cooper.

Under the new rules, Clifford might be instructed to just take his mark and point his free. As things were, he was inclined to go straight at his man in a one-on-one duel which made for an intense series of plays.

Coaches are working hard at all levels of the game on a forward’s unpredictability, their ability to produce a bounce, solo dummy, feint or shimmy to get past a defender and open up goal possibilities.

And yet with the press of a button, this could be lost.

We also reserve grave concerns over the sin-bin rule (passed by 73.8% of the vote), where players will now be sent to a sin-bin for 10 minutes rather than being replaced, as another layer of complication for the match day referee.

Antrim raised the issue of teams who go down to 14 men trying to kill the clock as they are numerically disadvantaged — it was confirmed that the 10 minutes will not consider delays.

The same point was raised by former Roscommon footballer Paul Earley this past week, but Playing Rules Committee chairman David Hassan insisted there was no evidence to support this concern.

We are not sure if Hassan was present for the first league game in Dublin’s campaign away to Monaghan, but the All-Ireland champions played through their sin-bin periods for Robbie McDaid and John Small by holding the ball and winding down the clock.

And we are unaware if he was there in Kingspan Breffni for the Dr McKenna Cup game a few weeks earlier between Cavan and Down. Pierce Smith was sin-binned, but spent 12 minutes off the pitch as he waited for a long sequence of play to end.

No evidence to support the concern? Really?

But as for the mark, they are trying to solve a problem that has long gone out of date.

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