GAA fear rules reaction as unhappy managers set to determine fate
THE reaction of county managers could decide the fate of the GAA's experimental rules which will get their first outing in this weekend's pre-season games in all four provinces.
And since previous experiences have shown managers to be resistant to rule changes the omens are not good. Last year, managers were especially critical of the yellow card sanctions which were dropped after the Allianz Leagues.
Croke Park officials are now concerned that early criticism of the rules would set a negative agenda even before they got a chance to be fully tested in the National Leagues.
GAA President Christy Cooney last month pleaded with managers, players, media and the public to give the rules a chance to bed in before forming an opinion as to whether they should be retained on a permanent basis.
"Nobody can make a definitive judgments based on a few games. Let's see it through to the end of the Leagues and then make a decision at Congress," he said.
However, some managers have already raised doubts about the experiments and the situation has not been helped by the need to issue a clarification this week on the rule regarding the 'mark' from a kick-out.
The GAA issued a statement on Tuesday pointing out that when a player makes a catch from a kick-out beyond his 45-metre line he will be allowed to play on if he wishes. Alternatively, he can stop and take a free kick.
The fact that it was necessary to tidy up a rule even before it was tested is an early setback for the overall package although, in fairness, the amended version is far more sensible and practical than the original.
Derry boss, Damien Cassidy, is unhappy with any experiments being used in the National Leagues, claiming that they devalue the competition. He believes new rules should be trialled at underage or club level rather than using the second most important competition on the senior schedule.
Mayo's John O'Mahony predicts the change from the open-handed pass to the fist pass will lead to confusion and that the new 'square-ball' regulation will be difficult to police. Attacking players will now be allowed into the small square ahead of the ball except from frees, '45s', '65s' or sidelines.
New Galway manager, Joe Kernan, believes that could be problematical. "Will forwards now take to charging at the goalkeeper? That will leave referees still having to make a decision just as they had to under the existing 'square ball' rule. It certainly won't make things any easier for referees," he said.
While he accepts that it's necessary to amend the rules occasionally, he has doubts whether the League is the right competition to trial them.
"It's a distraction for players when they're playing under new rules. There's a lot riding on the League so it's understandable that players would prefer to operate under rules they know and understand," said Kernan.
Westmeath manager, Brendan Hackett, also fears that the amended 'square-ball' rule will make life more awkward for referees and believes there's no need for any change in this particular area. Nor is he convinced that that the 'mark' will promote high fetching and could instead lead to more broken play as the ball is punched away from the fielders.
Cork manager, Conor Counihan, believes there wasn't enough consultation and also claims that experimenting during the National League for a second successive year will devalue the competition.
Anthony Rainbow (Kildare) and Oisin McConville (Armagh) were the players involved on the committee which devised the football experiments while Liam Sammon (Galway) and John Kiely (Waterford) represented the managerial wing. In hurling, the players were represented by Ollie Canning (Galway), Jamesie O'Connor (Clare) and Fergal Hartley (Waterford).
The experiments will put a fresh onus on officials but National Referees chairman, Michael Curley -- who was on the committee which drafted the new rules -- believes they will cope well.
"There may be some teething problems initially but from what I can gather from referees, they are quite positive. Hopefully, everybody will give the referees a chance to settle into the new scene," he said.
A planned get-together for referees on January 6 had to be cancelled due to the bad weather but a seminar is planned for January 22-23 during which the initial feedback to the new rules will be assessed.