Eugene McGee: Bosses should put up or shut up on new rule
When the handpass came into place in the '70s, scores from the hand were legal, much to the delight of a speedy Kerry attack.
Often a player could literally see the colour of the goalkeeper's eyes before sending him the wrong way with a handpass from five yards out. Then handpass scores were banned -- but there was no major outburst of anger from managers.
Mick O'Dwyer got the best referee of the time, Paddy Collins, to come to a training session and explain to these 'backward' Kerry lads about the new handpass. Kerry went on to win another three All-Irelands in jigtime.
This week, managers have vented their fury over what is a small technical alteration to the handpass, aimed at preventing the wholesale throwing of the ball that has been prevalent and largely unpunished for several years.
So let's call some managerial bluffs on this. Firstly, there's the notion that managers had this change foisted on them with no notice. Utter nonsense! The decision was taken at Congress on April 16.
That gave managers four weeks up to last Sunday to instruct their players on the change. If, as managers are saying, they were never told about the change, then that is between their county board officers and the managers. And if a manager sat on his backside and did not bother to coach his players about the handpass change, then it is he alone who must take the blame.
Secondly, it is no great problem to learn the correct latest version of the handpass. Half a dozen training sessions should be perfectly adequate to sort out the problem. One wonders what some of these managers -- some of whom are paid up to €50,000 a year in expenses -- are doing if they cannot teach their players a very simple and basic rule of play like the proper use of the handpass. It is not exactly rocket science.
Armagh did not complain last Sunday because Mike McGurn had coached the players about the change by insisting players kept a small stone in their fist while handpassing at training. It worked.
What is really bugging many managers who are on the offensive is that this change may slightly curtail the use of the handpass by players who are too lazy to learn how to do it correctly. If they spent half the time they devote to their short-passing routines, and instead spent more time practising the skills of foot-passing/kicking, both their own teams and the game of football in general would benefit.
I have no doubt I will be accused of living in the past with antiquated ideas about football, but that would not put me off if I was preparing a team.
The effectiveness of accurate long passes was highlighted on Sunday in the diagonal ball from Armagh's Steven McDonnell which set up Jamie Clarke for the best goal of the day. A similar long pass into Kieran Donaghy set up a Kerry goal for Bryan Sheehan at Semple Stadium. Long foot-passes like these can often eliminate four or five defenders as the ball goes over their heads.
In most games it would take five or six handpasses for the ball to reach the same point.
Generally when one praises kicking, the assumption is that it is all kicking and no handpassing.
But that is fallacy because the best teams have always been those who mix kicking and passing. I often watch matches on terraces to sample public opinion as reflected by surrounding comments.
For a long time now the most common shout has been: "Will ye kick the bloody ball into the forwards and stop that auld messing."
Now this seems to have been refined like this: "Will ye cut out that effing handpassing and kick the ball on."
I have no doubt these views do represent the sentiments of the majority of GAA followers but so ingrained is handpassing nowadays as a means of retaining possession at all costs that many people have been browbeaten by managers and some pundits into accepting only bogmen kick the ball. The intelligentsia, we are told, are those who handpass, most of the time. God help Gaelic football if that really is the position.
This latest handpass variation is just a small attempt to at least make handpassing legal and prevent illegal throwing of the ball in tight situations. That's what managers should be insisting on, instead of whinging about a small rule change like babies who have lost their rattles.