Ciaran Whelan: Curbing the handpass encourages defensive approach
Restricting the handpass would encourage a more defensive approach to Gaelic football, according to former Dublin midfielder Ciaran Whelan.
His conclusion follows first hand experience of the 'three hand passes only' trial in last weekend's Leinster Minor Football League. The ball had to be kicked after three handpasses.
Whelan, who is a selector under Dublin minor manager Paddy Christie, said that while the basic aim of the experiment was sound, it had merely confirmed what he had anticipated all along. He watched it closely during the Dublin-Cork game and was not impressed by its impact.
"If the aim was to increase the number of long kicks in the game and reduce defensive tactics, it didn't work. And it won't work. In fact, it will make games more defensive as teams can drop off, inviting the opposition on to them," he said.
"The defending side know that the opposition have to kick the ball after three handpasses so if they crowd the defensive areas, the chances of winning possession off a kicked pass are greater. On the other hand, you'll get the team in possession using short kicks after three handpasses so the ball isn't travelling very far anyway.
"Limiting the handpass might be seen as a way of opening up the game but it actually encourages teams to be more defensive. That certainly wasn't the intention at all."
Whelan believes that restricting the handpass would have had more impact some years ago when teams tended to line out in specific lines. However, the game is much more fluid now, with players no longer remaining in traditional positions.
"That's a crucial difference. It was different when teams played largely line by line but that's certainly not the way it happens nowadays," he said. "Limiting the handpass would not have the positive impact that some people seem to think."
Counting handpasses adds to the demands on referees and would, according to Whelan, present a problem, especially in big games.
"Referees have enough responsibility as it is, without asking them to count handpasses as well. I could see big problems with that. Imagine an All-Ireland finals being decided by a wrong count. It could easily happen," he said.
Other experiments in the Leinster League include awarding a 'mark' to a player who fields the ball outside the '45' from a kick-out and prohibiting backpasses to the goalkeeper.
Whelan believes that the mark will have little influence as the kick-out doesn't have to cross the '45', thus allowing teams to opt for the short route.
Nor does he see any reason to ban backpassing to the goalkeeper.
"It doesn't happen very often anyway. I can't see what purpose it would serve - it's not necessary," he said.
A call by the GAA's Playing Rules Standing Committee for the introduction of the mark will be considered by Congress.
Meanwhile, the various experiments will continue for the duration of the Leinster League, which Whelan believes is unfair on minor teams.
"I can understand why the Leinster Council wanted to see how the experiments would work but the league is very important in getting players ready for the championship," he said.
"Some of these lads get only one shot at playing county minor football and they deserve to prepare for it under the existing rules."