GET­TING UP TO SPEED

Colm O’Rourke wants to see the new rules in ac­tion - and fast

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - COLM O’ROURKE

THE first con­sid­er­a­tion when chang­ing any play­ing rule is to ask the ob­vi­ous ques­tion: Is it id­iot-proof ? The game of foot­ball is played by many who do not know the rules in their present form, never mind the spec­ta­tors who barely have a rough idea ei­ther. They know just enough (or lit­tle) to shout abuse at the ref­eree.

So can these new rules which have been pro­posed be un­der­stood eas­ily and im­ple­mented with­out too much has­sle?

The other main con­sid­er­a­tion for change should be vi­sion, as in a vi­sion of what the game of Gaelic foot­ball should be like. One thing for sure is that the mem­bers of the Play­ing Rules Com­mit­tee have taken a good look at the present game and de­cided fairly quickly that they do not like it. Nei­ther do the view­ing pub­lic, who turned off in record num­bers this year. Walk­ing the dog or watch­ing the news in Ara­bic was prefer­able to sit­ting in front of the box for the All-Ire­land semi-fi­nals. The view­ing fig­ures don’t lie. So for these rea­sons we have the most rad­i­cal pro­pos­als for change in my life­time, and prob­a­bly any­one else’s.

The vi­sion is for a change back to a game of foot­ball where there is an em­pha­sis on kick­ing the ball. The first one is the ac­tual kick-out. This should be called af­ter Stephen Clux­ton be­cause he has, more than any­one, brought about this change. His kick­ing is the Clux­ton fac­tor. It is a bit like vac­uum clean­ers be­ing called Hoovers af­ter the main sup­plier so the short kick-out should be known as the Clux­ton.

The pro­posal is that the mid­field area can only have four play­ers be­tween the ’45s un­til the ball is kicked. Then the race is on be­tween the half­backs and half-for­wards to get in for breaks and it will only make the kick­out for a good goal­keeper even more valu­able. A Clux­ton or Rory Beg­gan will put the ball into the spa­ces for play­ers to run on to or to one of their own good field­ers for a mark. Polic­ing it at county level should not be a prob­lem. Each lines­man stands at one of the 45-me­tre lines and watches across, the flag goes up if there is an of­fend­ing player and a free is awarded. That would soon put man­ners on ev­ery­one. How­ever, a ju­nior ‘C’ club game might have more prob­lems with no neu­tral lines­men avail­able.

Of course, the kick-out has to go be­yond the 45-me­tre line. This may cause dif­fi­cul­ties in un­der­age games un­less it just ap­plies to adult foot­ball. Even at that, a lot of goal­keep­ers might strug­gle to get the ball out far enough if there was gale blow­ing in their face. So it is not with­out flaws. Will it pe­nalise Clux­ton or Beg­gan? I don’t think so, they will just float the ball into a zone for one of their own men. Busi­ness as usual ex­cept their team’s at­tacks will start far­ther out the field. And the de­ci­sion is based on logic — short kick-outs at county level have gone from 14 per cent to 47 per cent in six years.

The re­stric­tion on hand­pass­ing may be more con­tro­ver­sial. If there is a beau­ti­ful flow­ing move and the player can’t hand­pass even if it would set up a bril­liant goal, it will draw groans and more than a few effs and blinds thrown in for good mea­sure. Yet the peo­ple who moan about hand­pass­ing de­stroy­ing foot­ball as foot­ball can’t have it both ways. The num­ber of hand­passes in games has gone up on av­er­age by 100 since 2011 and of course kick­ing has de­clined as a re­sult.

Com­bined with the side­line kick go­ing for­ward and a mark in­side the 20-me­tre line there will be a need for bet­ter kick­ers and field­ers of the ball on teams — maybe play­ers will go back to con­tin­u­ous prac­tis­ing of kick­ing and catch­ing — but it will also mean more con­tests in the air. Per­haps teams will pick a cou­ple of gi­raffes around the mid­dle of the field whose job will be to just get a mark from kick-outs and launch a ball into an­other ele­phant in the square. Even if there is a bit of that there will still be a need for the small man — ev­ery good team has a few ter­ri­ers bit­ing at the an­kles and there will be still a lot of ball to be won on the ground.

Yet it does sig­nal an in­ten­tion to have a fun­da­men­tal shift in the di­rec­tion of foot­ball, one that is away from the slow, or maybe fast, de­scent into the bor­ing game it has be­come. The fig­ures drawn from games over a six-year pe­riod em­pha­sise this slide. Foot­ball has dra­mat­i­cally al­tered in that time and some­times when you are closely in­volved you do not no­tice it as much. A bit like a sick man where you may not realise how bad he looks be­cause you see him ev­ery day but some­one who only sees him af­ter six months can ap­pre­ci­ate the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion. So it is with foot­ball.

Hope­fully all of these pro­posed rule changes will be tri­alled. No doubt there will be anom­alies thrown up and the law of un­in­tended con­se­quences may take over in some cases. The crit­ics will say it is go­ing to slow down the game and my view is that a faster game is not nec­es­sar­ily bet­ter. In fact, many skil­ful play­ers at club level who are not fit to run marathons might find en­joy­ment in the game again. A move from a per­pet­ual-mo­tion game to one where kick­ing is more im­por­tant will suit more of the va­ri­ety of shapes of the hu­man race. In short, you won’t have to be a com­plete ath­lete to en­joy foot­ball.

So Tim­ber Tim is back in busi­ness at full-for­ward. The man who de­pended on a high ball lamped in on top of him, and who never could get the low ones, might find that the game has come full cir­cle and he is handed the num­ber 14

jersey once again.

With this game too there will be plenty of op­por­tu­nity for tac­ti­cal vari­a­tions and a new em­pha­sis will be placed on kick-outs in par­tic­u­lar, while there will be more con­tests in the air all over the field, maybe even the odd skir­mish in the square with the goal­keeper end­ing up in the net. A whole gen­er­a­tion has never seen such en­ter­tain­ment.

A sec­ond ref­eree is an op­tion but then this is some­thing that you could ar­gue has been needed for a long time any­way. The tri­alling should start im­me­di­ately, maybe with sec­ond- and third-level com­pe­ti­tions as younger play­ers are bet­ter able to adapt.

Hope­fully all of these mea­sures get the green light for road-test­ing. Af­ter a few months ev­ery­one could then make up their minds. The bad news for all the coun­ties is that Dublin will still beat ev­ery­one no mat­ter what the rules and would do the same if there were no rules at all.

Goal­keep­ers might strug­gle to get the ball out far enough

‘It is a bit like vac­uum clean­ers be­ing called Hoovers af­ter the main sup­plier, so the short kick-out should be known as the Clux­ton’

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