10 ways to improve Gaelic football
BY tonight, Eugene McGee and his Football Review Committee (FRC) will have a clear idea of the changes the GAA public believe should be made to the rules of Gaelic football.
1 Restrict the hand-pass
Analysis of the four Allianz League football finals last April provided an interesting insight into how the handpass has corrupted Gaelic football.
Played in Croke Park over a 24-hour period and featuring Cork v Mayo, Tyrone v Kildare, Longford v Wexford, and Fermanagh v Wicklow, the ratio of hand-passes to kicks was 3.7 to 1.
At 5 to 1 each, Cork and Fermanagh had the highest ratio in favour of hand-passing, while Mayo (2.9 to 1) and Wicklow (2.8 to 1) had the lowest.
The bald figures only partly illustrate a story that has become increasingly depressing over the years.
The increase in hand-passing has not only reduced the entertainment value of Gaelic football, it has eroded the prize skill that is accurate kicking.
Why take a chance with a 30-metre kick-pass when the same amount of ground can be made up in a much less risky hand-passing routine?
Those who support unlimited hand-passing argue that a restriction would lead to catch-and-kick chaos where possession alternated much more often than is now the case. Would that be such a bad thing?
Besides, why should the requirement to kick-pass more often lead to lost possession? We're led to believe that players have never been better coached or are more technically proficient, yet many of them can't consistently deliver an accurate kicked pass. But then, there's no need to work on that skill when the safer hand-pass option is available.
The low standard of kick-passing in Gaelic football has been repeatedly underlined in International Rules games over the past decade where, very often, the Australians kicked more accurately than Ireland.
The Aussies encounter the round ball in International Rules games only (a total of four games every three years), yet they regularly out-kick Gaelic footballers.
Surely, that's the ultimate proof that the standard of kicking in Gaelic football is sub-standard.
The solution? Restrict the hand-pass to two, after which the ball must be kicked. Initially, it would result in possession changing hands more often but, in time, it would lead to more accurate kicking, arising from greater emphasis on working on that particular skill.
Also, ban the hand-pass back to the goalkeeper. It slows play down and detracts from the game.
2 Reward high fielding
High fielding is one of the game's great arts, seen to best effect off kick-outs. However, instead of rewarding a special talent, the rules favour players whose feet don't leave the ground. Instead, they lie in wait for the fielder to return to earth before surrounding him.
Quite often, the prize for making a spectacular catch is the concession of a free after the fielder is smothered by an opposition posse.
If referees applied common sense, they would penalise the marauding cluster but since they don't, the rules should be framed in favour of the catcher by awarding him a 'mark', thus allowing him time to play the ball away.
3 Allow direct lift off the ground
Forcing a player to put a toe to the ball in the lifting action represents the ultimate in pointlessness. It involves no particular skill and brings nothing positive to the game.
However, it raises frustration levels for players -- and indeed spectators -- as the line between legal and illegal is very narrow. It's an unnecessary rule that merely adds to the pressure on referees without contributing to the game.
4 Advantage rule
The need to regularise this area also applies to hurling. Quite how a situation has been allowed to continue where a referee cannot use some discretion after a player is fouled remains one of the unfathomables. Once the referee blows for a foul, play must stop even if the aggrieved party is in the act of kicking or striking the ball to the net. Effectively, the aggressor is rewarded.
There's a clear logic in allowing the referee a second or two before blowing his whistle to see if a real advantage accrues. Rugby allows the referee a reasonable length of time to see how play develops, which works well. GAA referees would not require anything like the same amount of time, yet it's denied to them under the current daft rule.
5 Scoring from frees
Kicking the ball accurately off the ground is a lovely skill but has been seriously eroded by allowing all frees (other than penalties) to be kicked from the hands, often from the wrong position. Forcing players to kick off the ground from a scoreable free would restore a high-quality skill to the game.
6 Act on serial offenders
A player can pick up a single yellow card in every game right through his career and never serve a suspension, yet if he commits two careless tackles in the same game, he is dismissed.
The argument against taking action for cumulative yellow cards is based on the administrative difficulty involved, but surely it should be possible to apply a simple count at senior inter-county level which caters for around 350 league and championship games.
Also, there's evidence of rota-based fouling, where defenders, in particular, target star forwards up to the point of taking a yellow card. The offender then hands the fouling baton on to a colleague who happily takes a yellow card.
Meanwhile, the victim is taking punishment from all sides but the opposition still finish with 15 players.
If a player missed a game after picking up three yellow cards, it would act as a deterrent to cynical fouling.
7 Give linesmen real power
If a linesman sees a foul that the referee misses, he cannot intervene.
Thus, an All-Ireland final could be decided on an incident where a linesman has spotted a foul but is prevented from bringing it to the attention of the referee. Linesmen can intervene on disciplinary issues but not on playing matters. Again, the aggressor wins out.
8 Act on cheating
It's becoming more common in football, although thankfully not in hurling. Going to ground too easily and then feigning injury should be punished by a yellow card.
9 Quick restarts
Why such a long delay between a score or wide and the kick-out? The defending team should be allowed a quick restart. And if the 'mark' off kick-outs is not to be implemented, why not allow kick-outs to be taken from the hand, which would further speed up restarts.
10 A four-point goal
Increase the value of a goal to four points. It would encourage teams to be more creative, leading to an increase in the number of goals in an era when it is a declining art.
Rugby enhanced the value of the try from three to four points in the early 1970s and increased it to five in the early 1990s in what proved a successful attempt to raise the yield. Gaelic football could well benefit from a similar approach to the value of a goal.
Today is the closing date for completing the online response to an extensive range of questions prepared by the committee chaired by McGee.
The survey has elicited over 3,000 responses and announcement of today's closing date is likely to lead to a late rush as football lovers seek to have their views considered for a list of recommendations. The FRC has also received over 700 submissions via email and letter.
"We've had an incredible response. It shows how interested people are in having their voices heard," said McGee. "This is probably one of the first times in GAA history that anybody can have their say, irrespective of whether or not they are involved with a club or are even a member of the association.
"It proves just how passionate people are about the games. It's very encouraging for the committee and will be a huge help when we get down to preparing our recommendations."
The committee is hoping to have the bulk of the work completed before Christmas.
"We'll be concentrating initially on rule changes that could be brought in for next year's championship. It's important that we get those submitted as early as possible," explained McGee.
Anybody wishing to complete the FRC questionnaire can still do so on frc.ie