Monday 15 July 2019

Colm Keys: 'Missed opportunity as stats show handpass rule was having the desired effect'

Analysis

'Many delegates had travelled to Dublin with their minds already made up' Stock photo
'Many delegates had travelled to Dublin with their minds already made up' Stock photo
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The findings of the review presented to Central Council delegates at Saturday's meeting may have been a case of locking the stable door after the horse had bolted, but they made for interesting reading all the same.

Many delegates had travelled to Dublin with their minds already made up, having taken feedback from managers, players and even Gaelic Players Association (GPA) officials, who lobbied hard to ensure that the 90pc of their membership against the restriction of just three consecutive handpasses being continued throughout the League were being represented.

Still, the decision to discontinue the trial was only narrowly carried, 25 to 23, so had one delegate switched the likelihood is that it would have continued, with a casting vote in favour.

How different would it have been had the findings of the review been made public prior to Saturday's meeting, findings that showed a dramatic decrease in the number of handpasses per game (100) and, consequently, an almost symmetrical rise in the number of kickpasses?

The experiment was doing exactly what it had set out to do, to rebalance the ratio of hand- to kick-passes, which was 3.5:1 in last year's Championship but was at just 1.3:1 in the 10 pre-season games reviewed by sports performance analyst Rob Carroll.

The number of possessions (counted as each time a team has possession) in the 10 games dropped by an average of 20, suggesting a higher number of turnovers and more ball in contest. That too is significant.

Of course, that doesn't give the full picture and those involved, as well as spectators, are entitled to form their own opinion based on what they have seen.

Fewer goals by comparison to the same games in 2018, and players being surrounded and confiscated all too easily on the third handpass the further up the field they were, led to the belief that the restriction played too much into the hands of defences, something that no statistic could show.

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The pressure on referees was also a factor. One of the significant segments of the review was a survey where they were asked to assess the rate of difficulty - from 1 to 5 - they had in adjudicating on the experiments - the handpass restriction scored 4.05. The detection failure rate was 1.6 per game, according to the review.

Restricting the number of handpasses may not have been the perfect solution but it has to give some food for thought as to how the game can be recalibrated in the future.

The other four experiments will remain in place for the duration of the League, and with the handpass restriction gone they will inevitably have a stronger focus.

A finding of the review was a 10pc increase in the number of contested kick-outs, with 10pc more crossing the 45-metre line. One in three kick-outs in the 10-match review were deemed 'short' as they had not crossed the 45-metre line.

Advanced marks worked out at around three-and-a-half per game, which is a small return, not reflective of any great shift in strategy.

Trials of this nature can't come again for another five years so it will feel like a lost opportunity, especially when the full picture did not emerge on the big ticket item.

Games featuring 13-a-side, preventing a pass back to the goalkeeper and a restriction on the ball crossing back over the 45-metre line that a team is defending were other measures that may have been crafted to loosen strong defensive alignment and create more contests.

Meanwhile, Central Council approved a decision to raise ticket prices by between 25pc and 33pc for most Allianz Football and Hurling League games, by 12.5pc for All-Ireland finals, by just over 11pc for All-Ireland semi-finals and by between 25pc and 33pc for qualifier games.

The rise, the first in eight years, is being touted as a revenue-raiser for clubs and for the Leagues alone has the capacity to increase gate receipts by over €1m, while All-Ireland finals could raise an extra €1.5m.

But it is sure to be met by a backlash and the potential for attendance figures to continue to contract.

Irish Independent

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