Wednesday 7 December 2016

Eugene McGee: Rule changes will destroy wonderful art of free-taking

Published 05/12/2011 | 05:00

A couple of proposed rule changes have seeped out of the Croke Park machine recently without any adequate explanation to the public.

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But it appears that the change in the use, or abuse, of the 'square ball' is one of them.

After a couple of diabolical goal-mouth decisions involving Benny Coulter, Tomas O'Connor and Graham Geraghty, the Standing Rules Committee (SRC) simply had to do something.

However, they have opted for a solution that was rejected a couple of years ago, which decreed that the player could be in the square only for free-kicks and not general play.

This was rejected by Congress, so what has changed? The proposed change makes sense and it will be interesting to see if these well-publicised incidents I've mentioned will change the GAA delegates' minds this time around. Incidentally, many top GAA officials and referee administrators backed up these incorrect decisions.

Another proposal from this SRC is about free-taking. It is planned that a player who is fouled can play on, provided opponents are five metres away, obviously taking that free from the hands.

I heard this called some stupid name like 'Tap and Go'. It should simply reflect the Australian game, where the referee indicates the player to play on.

While I would not disagree with this, I, like thousands of knowledgeable football people, will be saddened that this change would mean that one of our greatest skills, free-kicks taken off the ground, will be practically eliminated.

One only has to watch the expertise of rugby kickers like Ronan O'Gara and Jonny Sexton to admire the wonderful skill that ground-kicking is.

The GAA should be encouraging these skills rather than downgrading them all in the interest of that meaningless phrase "to speed up the game".

Remember the wonderful ground-ball free-takers of the past, such as Mickey Kearins, who once scored 14 pointed frees in a Railway Cup game at Croke Park, Tony McTague, Barney Rock (pictured left), Brian Stafford, Matty Forde, Matt Connor and Maurice Fitzgerald, not to mention a more current star in Colm Cooper?

Many supporters went to matches simply to admire those wonderfully consistent free-takers in action and young lads tried to imitate their particular style. The GAA should not eliminate one of the basic football skills, "to speed up the game".

The best way to do it is to coach players to use 30 to 50-metre foot-passes, but modern managers don't want to know about that.

•One sports book for Christmas I particularly like is 'My Great Sporting Memories', edited by Lorcan O'Rourke, formerly of Croke Park. It is 72 short chapters in which sports people and journalists write about their own personal memory of a special sporting incident. This fine publication is also in aid of a worthy cause with all proceeds go to the Chernobyl Children International charity.

Irish Independent

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