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Our great game just doesn't need this tinkering: Gallagher

 

By Declan Bogue

Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher has rejected the need for rule changes in Gaelic football ahead of today's meeting of Central Council, who are expected to vote through a suite of changes to experiment with in the upcoming pre-season and National League competitions.

There are five proposed rule changes in all, recommended by the Standing Committee on Playing Rules. They include a maximum of three consecutive handpasses before the ball has to be played with the foot. A black card now will be punishable by a 10-minute spell in a sin-bin.

Sideline kicks will have to go forward unless they are within 20 metres of the opposition end line, kickouts will now have to pass your own 45 metre line, and - most controversially of all - an 'advanced mark' where players inside the opposition 45 metre line will be able to claim a 'mark' for any catch made, as long as the ball travelled 20 metres.

However, Erne boss Gallagher echoed many of the early thoughts on the proposed changes by managers and players, and they are singularly unimpressed.

A keen analytical mind, Gallagher sees many shortcomings in the handpass rule.

"I don't believe it's needed," he states.

"I believe part of the game is keeping the ball. With having a hard and fast rule that you must kick it, for me possession is given away.

"In a way, if teams get ahead it will lead to more defensive play because teams get ahead and know at some stage teams have to kick the ball into that area, it can't be ran into."

He pointed out how it could diminish the skills of Gaelic football, saying: "There is a culture and tradition in some counties, probably more so in Ulster, I would accept that, and in Donegal, you saw Gaoth Dobhair's great attacking moves the last day (in the Ulster club semi-final win over Crossmaglen) got a couple of great goals at the end of a succession of handpasses.

"And plus, I think it is leaning towards needing more physically powerful players. If you kick more balls, you create more collisions and confrontations."

It is far from difficult to see the glaring deficiencies in the new kickout rule, which proposes that all kicks must go beyond the goalkeeper's own 45 metre line.

"Teams are going to put a surplus of players in there, they will bring their forwards inside the 45," explains Gallagher.

"One of the great advancements of the modern game has been the eulogising of Rory Beggan and Stephen Cluxton and their kickouts. Obviously it is because you want to have possession and you may not have the physically bigger players in the middle of the field. So I don't see why you should punish that, rather than speed the game up.

"Donegal came along in 2011, and Tyrone a year before that, they were retreating from Cluxton's kickouts! Now, it's in every game where teams are pushing up and squeezing up all the way. That leads to a lot of excitement with teams going over the top and the runners going when a team flicks the ball on.

"I don't see why things need to be altered when you have possession of the ball. Look at other sports. In tennis, you have the serve. You bowl in cricket. You pitch in baseball. That's your turn to decide what you are doing with the ball. It shouldn't be that you have to kick it out to wilfully lose possession."

Perhaps the most fanciful change is the 'advanced mark'. It was initially trialled for catches inside the opposition's 20 metre mark, but instead has taken on a completely different complexion before being put to Central Council, with anything inside the 45 metre line considered a mark, as long as it is propelled 20 metres.

The last bit, however, is the obvious difficulty.

"I would like to see if it would lead to excitement, if we have balls going into the square and they are won cleanly, or high. I would like to see them mark it," says Gallagher.

"But I think it is unsustainable if it is just over 20 metres. I think you are slowing the game down and we are going Aussie Rules style."

Gallagher, assistant manager for Donegal when they won the All-Ireland in 2012, would rather there are no more wholesale changes to the game, stating: "When the best teams play each other, there is still a lot of good games. At club level, at county level. Look at the excitement in the Junior final that led to the penalty frees. The Intermediate games, they were exciting, quality games.

"That's why the National League is exciting, it is about getting teams of a similar standard together."

He did suggest one rule change he would like enforced.

"I think there would be merit in the basketball half-court rule, where teams cannot re-enter their half of the field. It is a very big pitch to defend and I would like to see that trialled. Something like that would be worth looking at," he says.

"You can run the clock because of the sheer size of the pitch."

Meanwhile, it has emerged that former Clare All-Ireland hurling winning captain Anthony Daly could be linked with a new Antrim management set-up.

It is understood that Daly - who managed Dublin club Kilmacud Crokes to the county final loss against Ballyboden - could be included as a successor to Liam Sheedy's 'mentoring' role he performed with the senior hurling team this year.

Two of last year's managerial team are known to be interested in continuing in the job. While Terence McNaughton and Dominic McKinley have departed from the senior team, last year's selectors Neal Pedan and Gary O'Kane are thought to be keen to stay on, with the addition of former Slaughtneil manager Mickey Glover as coach.

Speculation has also linked Loughgiel manager Johnny Campbell with the county, but it is not known if he would be prepared to leave the role within his club.

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