GETTING UP TO SPEED
Colm O’Rourke wants to see the new rules in action - and fast
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’