Friday 23 February 2018

Curse of the handpass

Transferring the ball by hand should, in theory, be a relatively straightforward exercise, but it has been a problem in Gaelic football for a long time.

Basically, it comes down to the question of what's legal, what's manageable and what's good for the game. Insist on a closed-fist pass and the argument will be offered that (a) it slows the transfer and (b) it's impossible for referees to adjudicate on its legality if a player has his back turned.

Allow the open-hand pass and, inevitably, the borders between what's legal and what's a foul become blurred.

It's a problem that has existed for at least 64 years, as the following handpass history shows.


Antrim objected to the result of the All-Ireland semi-final, with the Ulster champions claiming they were unbeaten by unfair tactics, arising from Kerry's methods of counteracting the handpass game.

Antrim had perfected the art of the open-hand pass and while it took them to success in Ulster, Kerry were lying in wait. Joe Keohane, the great Kerry full-back, explained many years later what had happened, saying: "We decided that the only way to stop them was for each man to tackle the player for whom the pass was intended."

Kerry captain Paddy Kennedy was even more explicit, explaining that Kerry had decided they would concede any number of frees outside the scoring range. "The only counter (to Antrim's style) was to take the man getting the return pass and put your arms around him and hold him as the ball came to him," he said.

Antrim lost by three points (2-7 to 0-10) and the County Board objected on the grounds that Kerry had indulged in rough play which brought the GAA into disrepute. Central Council considered the objection for nearly three hours before rejecting it on a 19-10 vote.


Congress voted out the handpass in favour of the fisted pass.


Open-hand pass reintroduced. There was criticism of the style of handpassing indulged in by Kerry and Dublin, the top two counties over subsequent seasons.


Handpassed scores banned.


An experiment was applied during the National Leagues whereby a player who received a handpass had to play it away with the boot. It was not retained.

2010 (February-April)

The fisted pass replaced the open- hand pass in an experiment during the National Leagues.

2010 (April)

Congress rejects the experiments, but backs a proposal for an underhand striking action in the handpass.

2010 (May)

Pandemonium erupts when referees apply the amended rule in three championship games.


The GAA celebrates the centenary of the first major row over the handpass, which is still causing problems! The game has long since been renamed Gaelic Handball.

What's the difference?

The pre-Congress rule

"When a player is in possession of the ball, it may be struck with the open hand(s) or fist, provided there is a definite striking action."

The new rule

"When a player is in possession of the ball, it may be struck with the open hand(s) or fist, provided it involves a definite underhand* striking action."

*Underhand is the only change.

Irish Independent

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