Colm O'Rourke: Fetching new proposals should be given a chance
Colm O'Rourke says the GAA's latest rule tweaks can put the foot back into football
I t has been interesting to observe the reaction to the proposed new rules for next year's leagues.
There are two distinct camps. First of all there are those who see football as a bit of a dog's dinner at the moment, a game that has changed enormously from the basic principles which, up to a short while ago, governed it. Football has come a mismatch of running and throwing with the odd kick for good measure.
Occasionally, brilliant matches emerge, especially at underage level, but the adult version has seen a continuous drop in the amount of kicking in the last 20 years to the point where handpasses outnumber kicks by about four to one. Now it's a bit like juvenile football used to be, with everyone apart from a couple in the full-back and full-forward lines running after the ball in a sort of ongoing loose maul.
If you like that sort of thing, then fine, you are part of a very sizeable number of GAA people like Mickey Harte who believe there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the game and that there should no changes. Problems lie more in poor coaching of skills and the game should be allowed to develop in whatever way good managers take it. As always, Congress decides whose opinion is most valid.
I don't believe that the game regulates itself in the best interests of everyone. If this had been allowed to happen, we would have third-man tackles, all frees from the ground and if we went back a bit further, throwing the ball in when it went out for a sideline. All games need development and it's strange that most rugby followers think there is too much kicking in their game while there is far too little in ours.
People who don't want any intervention in football sometimes remind me of those who, up to a year or so ago, felt unbridled capitalism would solve all problems, that self-interest would create universal wealth. We know now that there has to be a guiding hand in everything to take account of the common good. I have to admit that I agree with almost every proposed rule change, or at the very least I would like to see a proper experiment take place until judgement is passed. If they are not an improvement, then there is nothing lost.
Replacing the handpass with a fist pass is a great idea. Most handpasses are throws anyway and a fist pass requires more skill and a very definite striking action which referees will find easier to judge. At the moment most referees have just given up on the handpass and there are absolute howls of protest if the most obvious throws are pulled up. The present handpass also contributes to the illegitimate version of present day football as it is much easier to throw the ball than kick it.
Mickey Harte feels that awarding a mark for a high catch in midfield is unnecessary and will slow the game down. Nothing could be further from the truth. Imagine Darragh ó Sé catching a high kick-out. If he was then able to kick umimpeded, it would be gone in an instant into Gooch or Donaghy. This would be much faster than the present maul which accompanies a high catch and anyway, high catching is another great skill which should be rewarded.
On a negative note, I was part of a committee which tried this before and the opposite happened. Instead of players going for high catches, a great many decided to make sure that their opponent did not make a clean catch and just broke every ball. The best intentions of men and mice sometimes come to nought. The time of year is a factor too, as it would obviously work best in summer conditions. Also, there are probably only a half dozen clean catches from kick-outs in most games, so don't expect a radical change.
Having said that, players with great hands should be rewarded instead of being set upon by a marauding gang as soon as they hit the ground -- and often penalised for overcarrying.
The other proposal I most agree with is having a penalty kick moved closer to the goal. At the moment a lot of penalties are missed and it is a contradiction that the team which gets penalised often gets an advantage. The balance of advantage will now be with the attackers.
It would also be a good idea for the committee to redraw the exclusion zone for penalties. There is nothing as stupid as at present where the drawing of the arc ensures everyone tries to line up in the same position for a penalty kick. There are more slaps thrown in the jostling for position here than at any other time in a game. A straight line 30 metres out would solve all problems, otherwise even being outside the 20-metre line would be better.
As for the square ball, I favour abolishing this rule entirely. It causes too much controversy and allowing limited access before the ball comes in is entirely sensible. It won't mean a posse of giraffes being hired from the zoo and parked in the square in Croke Park, but it might mean a bit more excitement. If Micheál O'Hehir was still around then the 'schemozzle' in the square would be back. So would "let her in high" and "get up for that one". A whole new language and excitement could be generated.
At least the experiments will have enough real matches to assess their value. Of course there are those who see no point in change but even they are sometimes surprised. A bit like the Paddy who worked for McAlpine in London for years but who was never asked and never gave his opinion.
When McAlpine came to open the most modern sewerage works in the 1960s amid much ceremony, he held court with all the great and the good but eventually noticed Paddy mooching around the site and regaled him about the process of dealing with the raw sewage through various water treatment stages before it could be let into the Thames as sparkling clear water. McAlpine though made one mistake: he asked Paddy what he thought and was shocked to be told "it won't work". When he asked why, the explanation was very simple. Paddy told him "if you fart in the bath, it still smells".
I hope Paddy does not make his mind up on the new rules before he sees how they work. Nearly all changes in the GAA cause a bit of a stink at the beginning but quite a few smell of roses very quickly. I think these are of the rose variety.