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What a stupid time to change the rules

TOM CARR (circa August 2001 in Thurles) may beg to differ but you've got to feel sorry for Michael Curley at times. The former Galway whistler now has the onerous task of chairing the National Referees Committee.

This job frequently entails publicly defending the current crop of referees, usually in the face of yet another vitriolic attack from a disenchanted (ie, defeated) manager.

Curley was called into action again on Monday, asked about apparently differing interpretations of the new hand-pass rule by different referees -- the day before we had Derek Fahy taking the 'zero tolerance' approach to the merest suspicion of an illegal pass (Meath v Offaly) whereas Pat McEnaney was more inclined to let it flow (Tyrone v Antrim).

"There were some inconsistencies again on Sunday but then this is new to everybody. We're working towards getting greater uniformity in how the rule is implemented and I have no doubt we're getting there," the referees chief duly commented.

"It's all about improving consistency right across the board. Once we can get players and referees on the same wavelength on this one, the problem should peter out."

Curley may not realise it but right there, in a nutshell, he has encapsulated the biggest problem with this infuriating development. One of ridiculous timing.

The GAA is working towards "uniformity". The referees are "getting there". Once everyone is on the same wavelength, the problem should "peter out".

And in the meantime, the championship will continue apace; we'll have referees incorrectly punishing perfectly legitimate handpasses; and we'll have players left genuinely mystified by said decisions (not to be confused with their default mechanism of feigned innocence following a blatant foul).

Sooner or later, too, we may well have a close-fought championship match decided by one of these erroneous calls.

Now, whether you agree with the newest, latest -- third in six months! -- version of the hand-pass rule is not the point here. You can argue that it merely creates an extra layer of ambiguity that Gaelic football could do without. On the flip side, you may believe that football has been blighted by an epidemic of 'throwing' and that, in the long run, this will prove a positive development.

Either way, it is already abundantly clear that this rule should not have been foisted upon players -- not to mention the hapless referees -- without a prior bedding-in period.

Instead of introducing the new rule from next January, allowing players and refs to adjust during the provincial subsidiary competitions and then the National League, we've witnessed the Guinea Pig Plate masquerading as the All-Ireland Football Championship these past two Sundays.

Even Páraic Duffy, in staunchly defending the rule, conceded last week that the timing was imperfect. "I would prefer if we weren't introducing rule changes in the first weekend of the championship, that's a valid point," the director-general admitted. "But in this case, it was not the most difficult change to understand and it did not come from Croke Park but from the floor of Congress."

Just goes to show that democracy, in the wrong hands, can be a dangerous concept!