IT was with much interest we awaited the revelations of the GAA's Football Review Committee (FRC) to see what proposals they would come up in relation to how they see the game of football progressing over the next few seasons.
After months of fact gathering and having carried out a wide consultation process it was with much anticipation that players, managers, administrators and gaelic football lovers and supporters waited to see what the FRC would propose on Monday afternoon, under the chairmanship of Eugene McGee.
I - like many others, I suspect - had hoped that the committee would be brave and go for situations that will improve the game and not just settle for options they felt would appease delegates to Congress. As McGee himself said on Monday, there is nothing outrageously game-changing in anything the FRC have recommended. They haven't reinvented the wheel. But I don't think they wanted to, and I don't think they had to.
One of the most important rule changes will be around the yellow card proposal. This recommendation should be welcomed insofar as it may cut out the cynical fouling. There is far too much of this type of play and teams are getting away with it. Every player now taking the field will have to bear in mind that his cynical fouling will cost his team.
Now, some poeple will argue that this will take the physicality from the game but I would disagree with this, as it will help the skill side of the game to flourish. The clean pick up, too, should help the game. This is borne out in the women's game and, to be honest, a lot of the pick-ups anyway were not being carried out properly. This too may eliminate handy frees for players.
If one was to study the old style pick-up when if a player bends his back to pick up a ball and gets an easy free if he is touched by an opponent, then expect this change to improve the game. The skilful player will benefit here also.
Now, while I would welcome the 'mark', which will reward high fielders, I would hope that it won't take from the art of high fielding completely as I expect that we will now see a lot of breaking ball. Even more than we already have. Will midfielders go to catch or break the ball? This could lead to a lot (more) bunching around the middle third of the field.
The introduction of the clock is a very important factor here from the point of view of stoppages that could entail from the introduction of the mark. The introduction of the seventy minute game at club level I'm not so sure about, especially if we were to continue to have our season running into the winter months. Games like our own county league can run very late in the season but if uniformity is what they are aiming at so be it.
All in all, there are no hugely controversial recommendations. However, the FRC stayed clear of the hand pass, which to me is the biggest hindrance to good football. When this was looked at before a body of managers came together and effectively stopped the rules from being changed. Some managers think that any rule change in certain areas is an affront on their team and system of play but that is to look at the situation in a very selfish way - surely they can see that the game needs to be rekindled back to its core values and skills.
Teams like Donegal and Kildare, to name just two, would see any alteration to the hand-pass as an attack on their style as they have clearly adopted a handpassing based game that suits them but that would be very narrow thinking in the long term interest of gaelic football and that would be a great shame.
I'm not naïve enough to want to get rid of the handpass altogether but there should be a limited use of it. Like I say, only one handpass be allowed in a backward movement. The hand-pass should be looked at as a means of getting the ball to a colleague who would be in a position to play it forward by either fist or to kick. What we have now in this possession game with numerous hand-passings in one's own half of the field and even kicking the ball back to your own goal keeper. This type of football is sucking the life out of the game.
Any one following the AllIreland Club Championship will be able to see that the clubs, by and large, that use the long kick and the hand-pass are the teams progressing and, in my view, even though the games are played in the poorest of conditions they are on a par with any intercounty game I saw this year.
Of course most of the clubs have worked hard to get to where they are but can adapt their style to suit conditions. We now know that St Bridget's and Crossmaglen like to kick the ball direct as much as possible. The Crokes adopted this style in the Munster Final and that suited their forwards.
Ballymun Kickhams also used the long ball on Sunday last and had a total contrast of style to Portlaoise who over did the short-passing game and ultimately lost the game. When you analyse those two teams you will see that Portlaoise had seven or eight inter-county players and they brought an intercounty style into a club game. But the Dublin side, who had only two intercounty names, played the club way and will be tough opponents for Dr Crokes, assuming they come out of London victorious on Sunday next.
The Crokes winning season continued on Sunday last when they won their seventh O'Donoghue Cup in a row. They picked up a few knocks in that East Kerry Final so let's hope they hit London town with everyone fit. This fixture is a potential banana skin for the Killarney side so let's hope they are focused on the task in hand. They are starting out as favourites but they have been on the road now almost every Sunday since the County Final.
A final word on the FRC's recommendations. Overall, I believe that the players will welcome them and the referees will too. Of course it is down now to the players and managers to implement any such changes that Congress will pass.