Rule changes: foot­ball in a strait­jacket?

A man­ager, player and ref­eree have their say as opin­ions are sharply di­vided on pro­posed rule changes

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Ian O’Riordan:

Still noth­ing stirs foot­ball de­bate quicker than rule changes.

Once the GAA’s Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on the Play­ing Rules is­sued their five mildly rad­i­cal re­forms on Tues­day af­ter­noon – for purely dis­cus­sion pur­poses – they were in­stan­ta­neously tried and tested and it seemed their fate al­ready de­ter­mined, with­out one ball even be­ing kicked, or in­deed hand-passed.

In fact that process is only be­gin­ning. The com­mit­tee fol­lowed up their five pro­pos­als with an eval­u­a­tion ques­tion­naire, is­sued across all 32 coun­ties, aimed at the three main stake­hold­ers: the in­ter-county player, man­ager, and ref­eree.

Fol­low­ing this con­sul­ta­tion process, GAA Cen­tral Coun­cil will de­cide which of the pro­posed rule changes should go on trial, first at col­lege level, then dur­ing the 2019 league. None, if any, can be writ­ten into rule un­til 2020, and by then any such changes may be com­pletely dif­fer­ent.

Still ini­tial re­ac­tion has been cau­tious, at best.

Here, three stake­hold­ers de­bate the pro­pos­als: Car­low man­ager Tur­lough O’Brien ad­mits he was “gob­s­macked” when first read­ing them, while Roscom­mon for­ward Ciarán Murtagh sug­gests “foot­ball doesn’t ac­tu­ally need to change a whole lot, the top teams will still finds ways to win”.

Also con­tribut­ing is Mick Cur­ley who ref­er­eed the 1999 All-Ire­land fi­nal be­tween Meath and Cork, along with foot­ball fi­nals in all four prov­inces, and the 1998-99 In­ter­na­tional Rules tests with Aus­tralia. Af­ter his re­tire­ment he was also the chair­man of the Na­tional Ref­er­ees Com­mit­tee.

1 Hand-pass: To in­tro­duce a re­stric­tion of three con­sec­u­tive passes of the ball with the first or open hand by play­ers of the team in pos­ses­sion.

Tur­lough O’Brien: “There may be some merit in this, but there could also be a num­ber of sit­u­a­tions where it would be detri­men­tal. Say a player is on the at­tack, only has three hand passes, a player in the square in­side him, and he can’t pass to him. That would be a dis­as­ter.

“And for the skills of the game, af­ter three hand passes, you have to kick the ball away, which is like foot­ball 40 or 50 years ago, a lot of ball be­ing turned over. And you can’t blame the likes of Dublin for the in­crease in hand pass­ing. It’s up to the op­po­si­tion to counter it.

“None of us like to see a team be­ing static, just hand-pass­ing the ball around, but teams have to pre­pare for that, or make sure it doesn’t hap­pen. And a lot of teams sit back in their de­fen­sive shell even when they’re four or five points be­hind, which is hard to un­der­stand, when they have to push out and chase the ball.”

Ciarán Murtagh: “I can see some rea­son­ing be­hind this, try­ing to get more kick pass­ing, but I can’t imag­ine three hand passes ac­tu­ally work­ing. Play­ers will end up kick­ing the ball away just for the sake of it. It would be dif­fi­cult for ref­er­ees to keep count as well, with ev­ery­thing else that’s go­ing on around the pitch. It could end up with balls fly­ing ev­ery­where. When you have the ball, it’s up to you to hold onto it, and the best teams will do that any­way, so I don’t think it will do away with de­fen­sive play ei­ther.”

Mick Cur­ley: “This could be dif­fi­cult to en­force from a ref­eree point of view. It cer­tainly puts an ex­tra layer of at­ten­tion on the ref­eree, as he has to count for them, un­less he has some­one else on the side­line do­ing it for him, and I can’t see that work­ing. The ref­eree needs to have full con­trol of what’s hap­pen­ing on the pitch, and it’s the eas­i­est.

“It would have to be done on an ex­per­i­men­tal ba­sis be­fore we get a proper idea of how it would work, and any real dif­fi­cul­ties would be seen at that stage. It has been cur­tailed in the In­ter­na­tional Rules game, and over time if a ref­eree got used to it then cer­tainly it would be­come eas­ier for them.

“I do think the game needs to do some­thing here, be­cause foot­ball is get­ting a bit of a ham­mer­ing at the mo­ment, be­cause of that type of hand-pass­ing. It needs a bit of an ex­pan­sion, to bring back a bit of the ex­cite­ment of kick­ing and catch­ing. If all the passes were go­ing for­ward as well that might make some progress, but at the mo­ment it is very de­fen­sive, all about pos­ses­sion, not los­ing it, and just pre­serv­ing it.”

2 Side­line Kick: That the ball shall be played in a for­ward di­rec­tion from the kick (un­less on or in­side the op­po­nents’ 13m line, when the ball may be kicked in any di­rec­tion).

TO’B: “This could hap­pen so fast the ref­eree mightn’t even see it, and the op­po­si­tion will be shout­ing ‘no, it wasn’t for­ward’. That hap­pens all the time al­ready. It could be con­tro­ver­sial.”

CM: “I’d have no is­sue with this, and it would force play­ers to move the ball for­ward, ob­vi­ously. It would be easy enough for the ref­eree and lines­man as well, and could take away from de­fen­sive play, es­pe­cially in the last few min­utes of games, where teams are kick­ing back­wards to the goal­keep­ing, just to keep the ball. It wouldn’t be any­thing ma­jor though.

MC: “It would be an im­prove­ment, no doubt about that, and just an­other as­pect re­ally of try­ing to make it a less de­fen­sive game, and if it en­cour­ages the player to put the ball fur­ther down the field, en­cour­ages the play to go for­ward and for the player to get the ball as far for­ward as he can from his own goal, then I think that would be a win­ner.”

3 The Mark: To ex­tend the mark to the clean catch­ing of the ball on or in­side the 20m line from a kick de­liv­ered be­yond the 45. The op­tion of a kick at goal is per­mit­ted should the player avail of the mark. Up to 15 sec­onds shall be al­lowed for a free to be taken from a mark.

TO’B: “There’s no doubt the high catch is a great skill, and it’s good to re­ward it. And the mark has worked very well at mid­field, from the kick-out. The mark in front of goal could be a good idea, I’m just not so sure if it’s out by the cor­ner flag. Maybe there could be a zone for a mark, a more lim­ited sit­u­a­tion.”

CM: “I like this, and while it mightn’t ben­e­fit the smaller player such as my­self, even in the half for­ward, pass­ing in­side, it would be nice to see a clean catch re­warded, and I think it would en­cour­age more long kick­ing, in­side the 45, in­stead of go­ing for the safety net and just hand-pass­ing over and back. Even the smaller player could catch it on the run, so I would be a fan of this. The mark has set­tled into the game, a re­ward not just for a clean catch but a good kick pass as well. And only al­low­ing a cer­tain amount of time, not off the ground, is a good idea.”

MC: “I would en­cour­age any­thing that would look to bring more skill out of the game, but at the same time I’m not sure this will work to the ex­tent they think it might. It would be easy enough to im­ple­ment, from a ref­eree point of view, I would say, but I just don’t think it would have the im­pact from a play­ers’ point of view.”

4 Sin Bin: A black card or two yel­low card in­frac­tions would lead to ten min­utes in the sin bin. Fur­ther in­frac­tions would lead to red card dis­missals. The max­i­mum num­ber of sub­sti­tu­tions in nor­mal time to re­turn to five.

TO’B: “Okay I think there is some merit in this. I just can’t un­der­stand why we’d al­low two yel­low cards be­come a sin bin sit­u­a­tion. That’s a red card sit­u­a­tion. Two yel­lows and you’re gone. You shouldn’t be al­lowed back on the pitch af­ter that. But oth­er­wise I see no rea­son not to try the sin bin again, see can it be worked out.

“There’s no doubt the black card isn’t al­ways a pun­ish­ment when teams can bring on a player ev­ery bit as good, but again it goes back to the ref­eree, and what ex­actly the sit­u­a­tion is. We’ve seen a black card of­fence, and five min­utes later it’s a yel­low card of­fence. That whole thing around tack­ling is still not re­solved.

“Nowhere here are they ad­dress­ing the tackle, one of the key weak­nesses in our game, how to de­fine that. How many times do we see a player sur­rounded, be­ing ham­mered at, and he’s blown for over­car­ry­ing? Then five min­utes later the same thing hap­pens and it’s a free in. We don’t know what the ref­eree is go­ing to do in that sit­u­a­tion, be­cause the rule is the prob­lem. And the blan­ket de­fence, play­ers are so con­di­tioned now, can cover the ground, get back into the de­fence. Maybe one so­lu­tion to that is to make the game 13-a-side.”

CM: “I don’t think this is go­ing to work, lads com­ing off and on again, it could be­come a bit of a free for all. And it adds more stop­pages, makes it more con­fus­ing. To be it’s not a proper pun­ish­ment if the lad is al­lowed come back on again. We see as well a player gets a black card for some­thing, an­other player gets a yel­low for the same, and it could be too tricky, and frus­trat­ing, if that hap­pens with the sin bin. The stronger squads will also ben­e­fit more as well. If a player has done some­thing to de­serve be­ing sent off the pitch he should not be al­lowed back on.

MC: “I was ref­er­ee­ing the last time they tried to bring that in, and I think the mis­take then was that it was too long, 15 min­utes, and that was never re­ally go­ing to work. I think a 10-minute sin bin would work, es­pe­cially in the con­text of the black card.

“Right now if a team gets a black card they’re not re­ally los­ing any­thing, be­cause an­other player comes straight on in their place, and we know for most of the foot­ball squads, or nearly all of them, the first five subs are nearly as good as the play­ers on the field. There is no real pun­ish­ment there. It would mean more at­ten­tion on the fourth of­fi­cial but there’s no rea­son why it couldn’t work.”

5 Kick-Out/Zon­ing: For a kick out, only two play­ers from each team shall be po­si­tioned be­tween the two 45m lines. The goal­keeper and a max­i­mum of six play­ers from each team shall be be­hind the re­spec­tive 45m lines un­til the ball is kicked. The ball will travel be­yond the 45 m line be­fore be­ing played by a player of the de­fend­ing team.

TO’ B: “This is ridicu­lous. I don’t know how this will work. If you have a de­fender, who ran down the field to put the ball over the bar, that play can’t be­gin again un­til he gets back in his own 45-m line. And what if a player runs in just be­fore the ball is kicked? And only four play­ers in the mid­dle third of the pitch? It’s very dif­fi­cult to even imag­ine.

“It looks to me like they’re try­ing to put foot­ball in a strait­jacket. This is the way you’re go­ing to play, catch and kick, end of story. And I think that would be a dis­as­ter. Over­all I’d be very dis­ap­pointed, to be hon­est. I’m sure the com­mit­tee put a lot of thought into them, but it would be mind-bog­gling if they tried all of these out in the league. It would be show­ing a lack of re­spect for man­agers. The league is a very im­por­tant com­pe­ti­tion and some these rules or de­ci­sions could de­ter­mine pro­mo­tion or rel­e­ga­tion and I don’t think that is ac­cept­able.

“We got pro­moted to Di­vi­sion Three this year, and try­ing to adapt to a new set of rules on top of that could be mas­sive chal­lenge. It’s poor to think they’re putting five out there, hop­ing one or two will get through. They should re­ally go with the one or two they re­ally be­lieve, not be con­fus­ing ev­ery­one with so many op­tions on the table. I’m not try­ing to be neg­a­tive, but we’re all stake­hold­ers in the game, some of us are work­ing at the coal­face, and I just think most of these rules would ac­tu­ally be detri­men­tal to the game.”

CM: “Again I can see the rea­son­ing, but can’t see it work­ing. It would be great to see the four lads bat­tle it out at mid­field, but it would be very dif­fi­cult to im­ple­ment, for the ref­eree and lines­man, and even play­ers, stand­ing on the 45 wait­ing for the kick-out to go over your head. And it would slow the whole game down, wait­ing for play­ers to go back into po­si­tion, the ball out of play even more, and it would be­come very bor­ing very quickly. Or get aw­ful con­fus­ing. For­wards and de­fend­ers love scrap­ping for breaks, so leave it as it is.”

MC: “To be hon­est I wouldn’t be sure at all at how that would work. Again it’s try­ing to en­cour­age a more at­tack­ing game, and re­ward the skills of the game. But again how could it be man­age­able from a ref­eree’s point of view, un­til it is tri­alled.”

There’s no doubt the high catch is a great skill, and it’s good to re­ward it. And the mark has worked very well at mid­field, from the kick-out

PHO­TO­GRAPH: TOMMY DICKSON/INPHO

Ty­rone’s Colm Ca­vanagh and Dublin’s Brian Fen­ton con­test a high ball in this year’s All-Ire­land se­nior foot­ball fi­nal. The mark is one of five ar­eas ear­marked for change.

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