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Manager fury over new rule

THE opening weekend of the All-Ireland senior football championship proper met with major controversy yesterday, sparking widespread fury and frustration amongst participating managers, players and spectators in three different venues over the latest interpretation of the controversial handpass rule.

The ruling, which was not trialled in the National League but was passed at Congress in April resulted in a raft of technical fouls being awarded by referees in championship matches in three of the four provinces, much to the anger of those involved.

Wicklow boss, Mick O’Dwyer, watched his team ease past Carlow by 11 points in a game in which referee,Gearóid Ó Connámha issued no fewer than 19 cards - three red - but his subsequent ire was fixed firmly on the GAA’s rule makers, accusing the powers-that-be of “destroying the game.”

“Sure it’s crazy what they’re at,” fumed O’Dwyer. “They should let the game alone. It’s going fine. They want to change and change again and it’s making it tough for the referees more than anything.

They’re making new rules up in Croke Park every other week. They’re destroying the game.”

Jack O’Connor led the onslaught after Kerry’s 12- point win over Tipperary.

“This is a massive change in a skill that the players have been practising for the last 15 years, and suddenly they hear about it two weeks before the championship.

‘Tis just mind boggling,” the Kerry boss blasted.

“I think Mickey Harte described it well when he said ‘underhand’ was the appropriate word because that was the way it was brought in,” he alleged. “Look, lads, I’m not involved in deciding rules or bringing in rules, I’m involved in the coaching side of it.

There is no other game in the world where you would change a fundamental skill and give the players a crash course a week before. I mean, these fellas have been passing the ball that way for 15 years - in the name of Jesus it is ludicrous to be bringing this in, in our primary competition, without even trying it out in the league.”

And he predicted: “Somewhere down the line there is going to be a critical call that costs a team a match, and all hell is going to break loose.”

His Tipp counterpart, John Evans, was equally aghast at the new handpass rule, claiming it had been brought into operation by “intelligent fools”.

“Thursday night we had (Westmeath referee) Pat Fox down in our dressing-room to give us an instruction. It’s not good enough, lads,” Evans complained. “I always say, if you go into a position of authority you should have a small bit of pragmatism and a bit of practical knowledge. I don’t want to be long-winded about it but guys are after training hard. We might be the underdogs, but then to sort of hit them with a change of rules... we know about the sideline, we know about the 13-metre and the next thing you’re telling us about the handpass.”

Evans invited Meath referee David Coldrick into the Tipp dressing-room before yesterday’s game. “I said, ‘Will you please come in and explain to us what your interpretation of the rules are because it’s up in the air.’ I just wanted to clarify it.” In the day’s other game in Ulster, Armagh captain, Steven McDonnell, cut a bemused figure afterwards when quizzed on what it was like to play under the rule for the first time.

“We’re not really sure what a legal pass is and what’s illegal,” he said. “We have to play it by ear and see what the referee decides.”