Martin Breheny: Catching the mice while the rat runs free
THE Football Review Committee has laid traps for the pesky mice out in the shed but won't bother with the big, ugly rat in the kitchen cupboard. Sure, he's not that bad and, anyway, he might leave soon of his own accord. Meanwhile, it's all-out war on the mice.
The package of proposals offered by the FRC for the advancement of Gaelic football includes several well thought-out suggestions but recommends no restriction on the handpass – the ultimate rodent in the rules family. It's an issue which many would have deemed fundamental to the entire process but instead of being restricted, the handpass is to have its application extended.
Fisted points are already permitted but the FRC wants points scored with the open hand to be allowed too. The explanation is referees find it difficult to decide if the ball has been fisted so why not make their lives easier by allowing the handpassed point?
Fair enough, until you consider the malign influence of the handpass on the overall game. Yet, the FRC are recommending no change, instead advising that the situation be "carefully monitored". That's the big failing in their otherwise progressive package.
The FRC regard the current handpass obsession as a trend which may change, pointing to the 1920s-1940s-1970s when it was very much in vogue, only to drift out of favour. The FRC's research showed the handpass engendered vastly different views from various age groups, with younger people favouring its unrestricted retention while the older generation are dead set against it. Bloody hell, what has happened to the youth? Have they lost every radical instinct?
Also, according to the FRC, officials entered the equation, with the Committee deciding that limiting the handpass to a set number would increase pressure on already busy refs.
To support its position, FRC produced figures on the ratio of handpasses to footpasses, showing a 2.3-to-1 split in favour of the former in the 2010/11 championships. Apparently, the ratio dropped to 2.1-to-1 among the top eight counties in this year's championship.
I conducted a similar exercise for the four Allianz League finals (Cork v Mayo, Kildare v Tyrone, Longford v Wexford, Wicklow v Fermanagh) last April and found the handpass-kickpass ratio was an average of 3.6-to-1.
In the case of Cork, Tyrone and Fermanagh it came in at around 5-to-1 each. Just as well, then, that the FRC weren't using the league final figures to support their case.
The FRC noted that the view was expressed at their focus group meetings that limiting the number of handpasses would "be equivalent to playing a conditioned game".
So what? Would that be such a bad thing? Besides, doesn't the 'steps' rule condition the game in a certain way, yet nobody is suggesting it's a problem?
Only time will tell if the FRC view that changing trends will correct the handpass fad runs true. The latest outbreak has been with us for a long time without showing any convincing signs that it's about to go out of fashion, even if FRC believe that the slight reduction in handpass/kickpass ratio in this year's championship is evidence of a gradual shift.
Really? If the four league finals, all played at Croke Park within a 24-hour period in late April, had a 3.6-to-1 handpass-to-kickpass average ratio, can we take an improved differential in selected championship games a few months later as proof of a changing trend? Absolutely not.
That's the trouble with statistics – carefully selected ones can be used to support whatever case is being made, whether it's the FRC showing that handpassing declined in the championship or me using the league finals to support my case that footpassing still comes a well-beaten second.
Anyway, those who believe that the core philosophy of Gaelic football is being undermined by the handpass have lost the battle.
The FRC recommends that the handpass should be carefully monitored but, realistically, what chance is there of change over the next five years after a high-powered committee decided it's not a problem at present? Sadly, the unrestricted handpass, complete with all its pernicious side effects, is here to stay. It's the only real downside of the FRC blueprint but it's a crucial one.
That apart, the FRC has come with some excellent proposals which, hopefully, will be debated on their merits – unlike some other rule amendment suggestions over the years which were vetoed for no good reason other than they recommended change.