Derry, host of the 2013 GAA Annual Congress, will be the venue of some of the most radical debates to affect the playing rules of Gaelic football following the publication of the Football Review Committees' findings.
The group, headed up by journalist and former All-Ireland-winning manager Eugene McGee (pictured below), have concluded their prolonged period of consultation and research.
While the wide-ranging document has a total of 18 proposals intended to improve Gaelic football as a spectacle and to iron out difficulties in rules and structures, four of them are ready for debate in March.
These include the introduction of a timing clock — something that has been in operation in ladies' football for years — and permitting a point to be scored with the open palm, rather than insisting the closed fist be used.
Other proposals that may prove controversial — such as the introduction of the previously-tried Australian Rules style ‘mark' and suspension for players who accumulate yellow cards — will be left until the following year for deliberation.
Speaking at the launch, GAA director general Paraic Duffy said: “There are 18 proposals, at a glance 10 will require rule changes.
“Of those 10, four will probably go to Congress in March 2013; the time clock, moving the ball up 30 metres, the advantage rule and the score with the open hand.
“Another four will probably go to Congress in 2014 with a view to introducing them in 2013; the mark, the pick-up, cumulative yellow cards and the extra timing in club games.”
Those fearing a report mired in negativity given McGee's own long-held aversion to the modern-game, were pleasantly surprised at the overall positive tone. However, while the report and the proposals require some clarification, it is clear that the FRC have taken a step in the right direction by targeting clear and present dangers to the game such as a lack of a clearly-defined club season, and ‘tactical' fouling.
McGee was clearly not afraid to grapple with the major issues and commented: “What we wanted was to make Gaelic football more enjoyable.
“This should be viewed as a positive report. Some 75 per cent of those who responded said that Gaelic football was either ‘good' or ‘very good’.
“Critically, of the 1,000 players surveyed 50 per cent said the club fixtures in their county were either poor or very poor. In one county we discovered that there were no minor fixtures at all played for four months.
“For all our proposals we had over 70 per cent in support for everything from those surveyed. This is very much the common man’s view of Gaelic football as to how it should be presented, what the wider GAA public would like to see.”
While the over-indulgence of hand-passing has been routinely cast up as an ugly scourge on the modern game, McGee revealed that after extensive study of 61 DVD recordings of football matches from the 2001/02 and 2010/11 seasons, they felt no need to change the present situation.
“We believe hand passing goes in phases,” he said. “In the 1920s Kildare won an All-Ireland using a hand passing game and then it disappeared again. Antrim came in the 1940s and got an All-Ireland semi-final using the hand pass extensively.
“Hand passing is not a core value of the game like catching and kicking. It’s a trend, a fad. It comes and goes at the behest of a manager who is smart enough to realise that he has a particular group of players that it suits and decides to expand their game with greater use of the hand pass.”
While there are a number of measure designed at curbing the scourge of the ‘tactical foul', the committee have also taken the novel step of proposing that the rules of the game be published in layman's terms and circulated among the association membership in order to encourage greater knowledge of the laws of the game.
Greater provision has been also made to make the job of referees more simple, including forcing players to set the ball down immediately after a foul has been committed against their team, with such a measure designed to negate the unseemly pulling and dragging that ensues as one side attempt to restructure their defence.
“You can’t ignore public opinion. The people aren’t fools. They know what’s happening. They see the amount of deliberate time- wasting going on,” explained McGee.
Yesterday's launch was of the first part of the document, with another edition concerning competition structures to follow early in the new year.
1.The FRC proposes that with regard to club fixture making, the CCC (Competitions Control Committee) rather than the county board shall have ultimate control in each county.
2: FRC is proposing that the existing Manager's Charter become a formal agreement, submitted to Croke Park by first week in January each year.
3: The FRC proposes the phased introduction of mandatory coaching qualifications, particularly for managers/coaches of adult teams at club and county level.
4: A distinction between accidental and deliberate fouls be written into the rules, with only deliberate fouls invoking a card punishment.
5: Publication of a laypersons guide to the playing rules which aims to explain the most common rules, but which will not carry legal or formal standing.
6: In the interests of improving refereeing standards at all levels the direct link that currently exists between the head of referees in each province and county and Chair of the Referee's Committee should be considerably strengthened.
7: Full and proper enforcement by referees of the rule governing field incursions.
8: A recruitment drive for referees among recently retired players to be pursued with some urgency.
9: Before all club and county games, referees should go to each team dressing room to introduce themselves to the players, in the interests of building rapport and respect.
By Declan Bogue
One surprising suggestion from the Football Review was proposal 3, which insists upon ‘phased introduction of mandatory coaching qualification, particularly for managers/coaches of adult teams at club and county level.’
Such restrictions have been in place for many years with other sports, and it has already been encouraged among Ulster Gaels that prior to taking underage teams, coaches should acquire their foundation coaching course along with undertaking background checks by the police as part of good practise.
However, the news that no county coaches possess coaching certificates — according to FRC Chairman Eugene McGee — will come as a surprise.
“It is one of the great anomalies — there is no inter-county manager that I am aware of and very few club managers that actually have coaching certificates,” McGee said.
“Coaching has been going on 30 or 40 years actively in the GAA and we have at least as sophisticated a coaching system in Gaelic football as any game of football around the world.
“You could cover the road from here to Longford with (people who have earned) coaching certificates in the last 30 years and the vast majority never get the chance to coach a senior club team or at inter-county level so there is something radically wrong there.
“These men and women have wonderful knowledge and experience.
“It would be setting a good example if you couldn’t be involved with a county team unless you had a coaching qualification.”
FRC member John Tobin added: “There are excellent coaches categorised into different sections and we think that people at a certain level, at all levels, should have an appropriate level of qualifications. In all other organisations it has happened.
“In particular, if you take our child category we have fantastic qualifications but we would envisage a situation where inter-county coaches and managers would have to have appropriate qualifications working in that role.”
For several years, the Ulster Council have, in conjunction with county boards, been hosting coaching workshops for coaches to gain the necessary qualifications. Further details on these can be found on www.ulster.gaa.ie.
10: Players issued with a yellow card should be subject to mandatory substitution for the remainder of the game and number of substitutes permitted increased to six with the introduction of this proposed change.
11: All offences currently attracting a 13-metre sanction should attract a 30-metre sanction.
12: Correct tackling be promoted and emphasised as a key skill of Gaelic football within all GAA coaching manuals. Also a fuller definition of the tackle rule be introduced.
13: A new Advantage Rule to replace Rule 4.36 and Rule 5.35, for implementation in 2013.
14: For implementation in 2014, that
Australian Rules style ‘The Mark' should be introduced for any catch from a kick-out where the ball is caught cleanly on or past the 45 metre line.
15: In addition to the existing rules on picking up the ball, a clean pick-up should be permitted.
16: The amendment of rule 3.1 to allow a point to be scored with the open hand as well as the fist, with implementation in 2013.
17: A public time clock be introduced in Croke Park and in all grounds used for Provincial and All-Ireland series games in 2013 and rolled out thereafter as practicable.
18: The duration of the adult club game be changed from 60 minutes to 70 minutes for all adult club competitions.