Sport Gaelic Football

Tuesday 12 December 2017

GAA missing the point with ham-fisted 'pass' experiment to rest with defence

Cork's Fintan Gould hand passes the ball durin the NFL game against Monaghan last weekend. Referees are still struggling to judge the legality of passes under the new rules
Cork's Fintan Gould hand passes the ball durin the NFL game against Monaghan last weekend. Referees are still struggling to judge the legality of passes under the new rules
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

IT'S difficult to know which is the more pointless -- answering a question that wasn't asked or questioning an answer that wasn't given. George Lee (by the way, I live in the Dublin South constituency which elected him but wouldn't have voted for him if he were the only candidate because I dislike pseudo-celebrity) appears to have done the latter while the GAA has snared itself in the former.

Among the experiments which the GAA's rules revision group devised for trial this spring was a change in how the ball is transferred by hand in football. They outlawed passing with the open hand on the basis that it was difficult to differentiate between a foul throw and a legal transfer. Instead, the pass must be made with a clenched fist.

They also reckoned that since the fisted delivery is slower than the open hand-pass it would encourage greater use of the boot. That was never going to happen, but then the rules group had made the mistake of addressing a small query which was being raised about illegal passing while ignoring the substantial question of what impact hand-passing (either by the palm or the fist) was having on Gaelic football.

The result is that, a few weeks into the trial phase, there's still as much confusion as ever over the legality of the hand transfers while the issue of whether there are too many of them is not covered in the experiments. And since playing rules can only be changed every five years, there will be no opportunity to address the disproportion between hand and foot passes until 2015.

That's another five years in which the game will strengthen its links with basketball and move further away from the core principle of a sport which is, after all, called Gaelic football.


There was so much hand (fisted?) passing in last Sunday's Kerry-Dublin game in Killarney that it was as if a penalty-points system applied for those caught kicking the ball more than twice. But then that has been the norm for a long time and clearly the adjustment to the hand-pass has made no difference whatsoever.

Nor has it made it easier for referees to adjudicate on the legality of passes. It's impossible for a referee to assess whether the ball was palmed or fisted if the player is running away from him. And with the game being played at such high speed, it's difficult for the referee to get it right even when the player is in his eye line.

So what we have now is more confusion over the hand-pass while the core issue of its prevalence has not been addressed.

The emphasis placed on hand deliveries by coaches is evident in warm-ups where the longest routine usually involves players lining up against each other and hand-passing/tackling in a small area.

It's all about ball retention and since hand-passing is the best way to achieve that, nobody can blame coaches or players. However, legislators have a broader responsibility to the game itself, yet they have done nothing to restore the foot-pass (long or short) to its rightful position as a central value of Gaelic football.

Ironically, at a time when use of the boot has increased dramatically in rugby (a game essentially based on the hand), it has lost its pre-eminence in Gaelic football.

Restructuring the game so that a player who received the ball from a hand-pass had to deliver it by boot would certainly have been worth experimenting with. Initially at least, it wouldn't have been as reliable a method of retaining possession but would eventually lead to much more accurate foot-passing. That, in turn, would produce a more fluid, attractive game.

Instead, it continues to be trapped in a hand-passing maze, still complete with doubts over the legality of the transfers.

The rules revision group missed a great opportunity to realign the relationship between boot and ball. Instead, they tried to answer a query that wasn't raised.

It leaves the game facing at least another five years without an answer to a very simple question -- if it's called Gaelic football why is so much basketball allowed?

Benefit of doubt needs to rest with defence

IN a court of law, the prosecution must prove its case beyond reasonable doubt before the charged person can be convicted. Under GAA law a player can be suspended on the word of the referee even where there's serious doubt as to whether it's a case of mistaken identity.

Kildare's Morgan O'Flaherty is currently serving an eight-week ban after being charged with a kicking offence in the infamous O'Byrne Cup clash with Laois last month, but there's a widespread belief that he is a victim of mistaken identity.

I understand that another Kildare player was prepared to take the rap but when it then emerged that, if he came forward, both he and O'Flaherty could have been suspended, which would have been a double hit.

There's something disturbing about this case. Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney says that everybody who was in Newbridge that day knows that O'Flaherty is serving a sentence for an offence committed by somebody else. Surely the benefit of the doubt should go to the defence rather than the prosecution, in which case O'Flaherty would be immediately re-instated. After all, if he's not guilty he shouldn't be suspended.

Irish Independent

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