Sport Gaelic Football

Saturday 18 November 2017

D-Day in Derry

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Today’s GAA Congress session is one of the most important for several years with the 328 delegates facing big decisions across a wide range of areas.

The outcomes will impact on players, referees and various others directly involved in the games, while also shaping how Gaelic football, in particular, presents itself as spectacle to the viewing public.

Martin Breheny outlines the 20 most important proposals, offers a view on their merits and demerits and predicts how they will fare.

The first nine relate to recommendations from the Football Review Committee (FRC), although some, if accepted, will have implications for hurling later on as they concern general rules rather than just issues specific to football.

1. Black-card sanction (FRC)

A player guilty of a deliberately cynical/destructive foul such as pulling down, tripping or impeding the run of an opponent who has played the ball away, verbally abusing/threatening an opponent or match official will be sent off and replaced.

Good or bad idea? It's important to confront negativity, but this proposal doesn't go far enough. Ten minutes in the 'sin bin' (no replacement allowed) would be more punitive, but since that's not on the agenda, the 'black card' is next best. Only players who indulge in deliberate foul play will be sent off (even then a replacement is allowed), so other than for self-serving motives (mostly driven by managers), there is no reason to oppose this proposal.

Hit or miss? It's likely to win a simple majority, but unlikely to reach the required two-thirds to become a rule.

2. Clean pick-up (FRC)

The ball may be lifted directly off the ground (the current pick-up will also be allowed). A player must be in an upright position and have one foot on the ground when making the pick-up.

Good or bad idea? Not as convincing as it might look. Granted, the existing situation generates frustration when players are penalised for pick-ups they thought were legal, but is that enough to change the rule? Other rules aren't changed because players get frustrated when borderline decisions go against them.

Hit or miss? Unlikely to win enough support.

3. The mark (FRC)

When the ball is caught cleanly outside the 45-metre line from a kick-out, the catcher has the right to play on or step back and get his kick away unimpeded.

Good or bad idea? Anything that rewards high fielding is welcome, even if, in this case, it applies to fetches made from kick-outs only. It would end the unseemly scramble which often occurs when a player gets back to earth after making a high fetch, sometimes being penalised for overcarrying because of the posse of ground-troops around him. Where's the reward for skill in that?

Hit or miss? It was beaten at Congress three years ago. No reason to believe it will be any different now. More's the pity.

4. Punishing delaying tactics (FRC)

It's quite common for a player who commits an offence to interfere with an attempt to take a quick free. It's proposed that the current sanction of moving the ball forward 13 metres be increased to 30 metres and also that a player who commits a foul while in possession must immediately place the ball on the ground to avoid the 30-metre sanction.

Good or bad idea? It punishes cynicism, so what's not to like about it? Also, if introduced, it would rapidly reduce such incidents as a 30-metre sanction is significant.

Hit or miss? There will be enough arguments claiming that 30 metres is excessive to shoot it down.

5. Advantage rule (FRC)

Allow five seconds for the referee to decide if the team against whom the foul was committed gained any advantage. Under current rule, if the referee plays an advantage and it's clear a second later than none actually accrues, he cannot call a free.

Good or bad idea? There's a clear logic to the proposal as there are dozens of examples every year where the offender, rather than the offended, benefits from the current system. This is an FRC proposal but, clearly, if it's accepted for football, it will also have to be introduced to hurling.

Hit or miss? Surely, this one has to fly – otherwise the Congress hall should be checked for logic-destroying chemicals.

6. Scores with the hand (FRC)

A point may be scored with the open hand as well as the fist.

Good or bad idea? Seriously bad. There's enough hand-passing allowed without extending it to scoring. If this passes, thrown points will soon become the norm.

Hit or miss? Probably a hit.

7. Yellow cards (FRC)

Introduce a system whereby a player who picks up three yellow cards serves a ban.

Good or bad idea? Makes perfect sense to end the mockery whereby a player can be booked once every time he plays and never miss a game.

Hit or miss? Probably a miss once enough arguments (spurious it must be said) about difficulty in administering it are put forward.

8. Duration of games (FRC)

The proposal is for all adult club games be played over 70 rather than 60 minutes.

Good or bad idea? The aim is to bring club action into line with inter-county games on the basis that modern-day fitness levels are sufficient to sustain all adult players for 70 minutes. Soccer and rugby have no time differentials in game duration and the FRC believe the same should apply in Gaelic football.

It's a good idea, but has implications for hurling too. Club hurlers would be well able for 70-minute games, too, but here's an example of how predominantly hurling counties may object on the basis that an idea proposed for football would, if passed, inevitably apply to them, too, later on.

Hit or miss? It makes a lot of common sense, but is unlikely to make the two-thirds majority.

9. Time-keeping (FRC)

A public time clock to be installed at all venues used in the All-Ireland inter-county championships. The clock would be stopped for injuries and other stoppages signalled by the referee. The game would end with a hooter once 35 minutes (senior games) had been reached on the clock.

Good or bad idea? It would end the regular controversies over whether sufficient stoppage time has been added. Over 80pc of those who responded to the FRC survey supported the idea.

Hit or miss? A hit, but that doesn't mean it will be implemented since a similar motion was passed by Congress in 2010, but it never came into force as Central Council decided it was too costly. Quite how Central Council could overrule Congress still remains a mystery.

10. Hawk-eye

It's proposed to trial the electronic detection system to decide if the ball has gone inside or outside the posts in cases where there are doubts. It would apply to Croke Park only during the trial period, after which a decision would be made on whether to extend it nationwide.

Good or bad idea? It's worth experimenting with since there have been too many instances of poor calls over the years, even if most could have been avoided by better positioning by umpires.

Hit or miss? It will get the go-ahead for the Croke Park experiment; the real test will come later when the cost of using it all over the country becomes an issue.

11. All-ireland football qualifiers

This is one seriously complicated motion, but basically it seeks to give counties more certainty as to when their games will be played, while also ending the controversial six-day turnaround for two of the beaten provincial finalists before they play a Round 4 qualifier.

Good or bad idea? The sentiment behind it is good, but it restricts the open nature of the qualifier draw, which is a drawback. Also, it must be possible to devise an alternate and simpler system to avoid the six-day turnaround which once again proved costly for three of the four beaten provincial finalists last year.

Hit or miss? One of two outcomes – it will either be passed because it's so complicated that delegates will buy the "more room for club activity" ingredient without thinking of the actual qualifiers or it will be shot down because it's difficult to understand. The latter to win.

12. Hurling championships

It's proposed to cut the number of counties eligible to play for the Liam MacCarthy Cup between 2014 and 2016. Fifteen counties would compete in 2014, reducing to 13 by 2026.

Good or bad idea? A pity it's deemed necessary to cut back on Tier 1 counties, but it's merely regularising what was envisaged a few years ago.

Hit or miss? Hit

13. Restricted entry for previous all-ireland winners in qualifiers

Wexford will propose that where All-Ireland football or hurling winners of the previous three years lose a first round provincial game in any given season, they are not allowed entry to the qualifiers.

Good or bad idea? Bad.

Hit or miss? Miss.

14. Pre-championship availability

Wicklow want senior players available for club duty up to seven days before all inter-county championship games, except All-Ireland finals and up to seven days before all minor and U-21 championship games, including All-Ireland final.

Good or bad idea? It really doesn't matter, because even if passed it won't be applied by many counties.

Hit or miss? Miss

15. New All-Ireland final dates

Cork are proposing that the All-Ireland senior football final be played on the second Sunday in September with the hurling final two weeks earlier.

Good or bad idea? Bad, bad, bad! Cork are arguing that it will be a major boost for club championships, offering extra weekends for local action.

Similar proposals have come before Congress before with the backers making the same point. Under this proposal, the All-Ireland hurling final could be played as early as August 25 with the football final on September 8.

Effectively, it means that the All-Ireland series would be completed just over a week into September, leaving almost five months until the next competitive inter-county activity.

From a promotional viewpoint, how can that make sense at a time of year when soccer and rugby are cranking up their massive coverage?

Besides, bringing forward the All-Ireland final dates by two weeks will have only minimal impact on club activity when the main problem is the all-powerful influence of managers, not the number of inter-county games.

Playing the finals earlier as a means of helping club players is the equivalent of throwing more money at the HSE – the service will get no better, while coming at a higher cost.

Hit or miss? Surely there won't be a two-thirds majority for this one.

16. Team announcements

Teams for all senior championship games must be submitted to Croke Park, for issue to the media, four days before a game.

Good or bad idea? Obviously, the media have a vested interest in this one, which is sponsored by the Rules Advisory Committee and Central Council.

It's seen as a way of increasing publicity for Gaelic Games, which are in opposition with other sports on a global scale.

Surely anything that promotes hurling and football is good for all involved.

Besides, how is it that international rugby teams are named days in advance of games, yet secrecy has become increasingly prevalent in the GAA?

A case of a trend for which nobody has an explanation?

Hit or miss? Even if it's passed, it will be difficult to apply since managers can issue dummy teams and claim they had no choice due to injury issues which prevented them making a final decision until late in the week or just before throw-in.

However, if the motion is beaten, counties can never again complain about the amount of coverage hurling and football are receiving in the media since this is a clear attempt to increase the flow.

At the very least they can make a statement today that promotion of the games count.

17. Rugby world cup

Central Council to be given the power to make Croke Park and various other GAA grounds available in the event of a successful bid by the IRFU to stage the 2023 or 2027 rugby World Cup in Ireland.

Good or bad idea? Good all the way. A decision has to be made now so that the IRFU can factor in GAA support if they decide to make a formal application.

If the bid is successful, it would be a major coup for Ireland with the GAA at the heart of the positivity while also getting money to upgrade their venues and to stage the games.

Hit or miss? This will be passed, no problem.

18. Racism, sectarianism

Anything considered racist or sectarian to be deemed as having brought the GAA into disrepute which can carry lengthy suspensions.

Good or bad idea? Unquestionably good.

Hit or miss? Unanimous hit

19. Helmets

All hurlers must remove their helmets during the National Anthem.

Good or bad idea? Why not extend it to the pre-match parade in order to makes players more recognisable? Many top players are still largely mysterious figures to the public because their faces aren't seen on match days.

Hit or miss? Hit

20. Sponsorship extra

Allow extra branding on jerseys.

Good or bad idea? If it helps increase revenue streams, it's welcome.

Hit or miss? Hit

Irish Independent

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