Wednesday 24 April 2019

Analysis: Assessing the five massive rule changes to gaelic football being proposed by the GAA

The proposed change to the kick-out might not work in practice
The proposed change to the kick-out might not work in practice

Cormac Byrne

Gaelic football could be about to experience the biggest ever overhaul in its rules.

The GAA’s Standing Committee on the Playing Rules has issued a list of five proposed experimental rule changes.

Here, we take a closer look at each rule and tease out whether or not they will be effective.

Proposal (1)


To introduce a restriction of three consecutive passes of the ball with the fist or open hand by players of the team in possession.


If you examine this year's All-Ireland final, 74pc of the passes made were handpasses (315). Teams are increasingly trying to control possession and the simple fact is that handpasses are easier to execute. This rule would adversely impact teams with a strong running game and suit sides with a higher skillset and with players who are comfortable in possession.

Would four or five consecutive handpasses make more sense?

Proposal (2)

Sideline Kick

That the ball shall be played in a forward direction from the kick.


In the case of a side-line kick being taken by an attacking player on or inside the opponents’ 13m line, the ball may be kicked in any direction.


This rule will encourage the use of long balls and discourage lateral passes but will place a lot of pressure on the kicker. It will give defending teams an edge because they will know the direction the ball must travel in and lead to greater man-marking.

It should lead to more contested ball.

What happens if a ball is kicked in a forward direction but is curled to a teammate located behind the points where the sideline kick is taken, or is blown back by the wind?

Proposal (3)

The Mark

To extend the application of the Mark to the clean catching of the ball on or inside the 20m line from a kick delivered on or beyond the 45m line without it touching the ground.

In the case of a Mark being awarded to an attacking player on or inside the 20m line, the free, if availed of, shall be taken from the point on the 20m line directly in line where the Mark is awarded.

In the case of a Mark being awarded to a defending player on or inside the 20m line, the free kick, if availed of, shall be taken from the point where the Mark is awarded.

The application of the Mark in the two areas of it arising (i.e. as in current Rule and in new Proposal) shall be standardised as follows:

  • Up to 15 seconds shall be allowed for a free to be taken from a Mark.
  • If the Referee determines that the player who makes the Mark has been injured in the process and unable to take the kick, the Referee shall direct the player’s nearest team mate to take the kick.
  • A score may be made from a free awarded for a Mark.
  • The normal Rules governing free-kicks shall apply (e.g. players being 13m from the ball before it is kicked).


A free-kick from a Mark shall be taken from the hand(s) only.

If a player opts to ‘play on’ when awarded a Mark, he may be challenged i.e. provisions (b) (i) and (ii) of the current Mark Rule shall not apply during the experimentation.


It may be necessary for players who take a mark to indicate that they are not playing on, as is the standard practice in rugby (by raising a fist or calling out). You may have a situation where a player stops and then suddenly plays on again. This would give him an advantage over their markers.

It will suit players with good ball-winning ability and shooting accuracy. Deploying a player with excellent high fielding skills who can't kick a point could be problematic. The rule might also see players who are poor shooters feigning injury so more accurate teammates can take over the kick.

The rule also gives an incentive to defenders to catch the ball instead of break it but this could potentially lead to unnecessary fumbles and the concession of scores.

Proposal (4)


The Penalty on the day for a Black Card Infraction or two Yellow Card Infractions - an ordering off for ten minutes in a Sin Bin.

A subsequent Black Card Infraction shall be penalised by the showing of a Black Card followed by a Red Card.

A subsequent Yellow Card Infraction shall be penalised by the showing of a Yellow Card followed by a Red Card.

In either case there shall be no substitution allowed.

The maximum number of substitutions in normal time to return to five.

The Duties of a Referee and Sideline Official to be amended in accordance with this Proposal.


The use of the black card has divided many in gaelic football. The introduction of a sin-bin should have a big impact on reducing cynicism. The fact that a player can receive three yellows before getting a red will raise eyebrows. For this rule to work, referees will have to apply the rules governing red cards strictly.

Teams will have to devote more time into preparing for being at a numerical advantage and disadvantage.

Will players be allowed to return to the field when the 10 minutes elapses or will they have to wait for the next break in play?

Proposal (5)


For a kick-out, two players only from each team shall be positioned between the two 45m lines.

The goalkeeper and a maximum of six players from each team shall be behind the respective 45m lines, until the ball is kicked.

The ball from the kick-out shall travel beyond the 45m line before being played by a player of the defending team.

Other Rules relating to the kick-out to remain unchanged.


(1)  For another player on the team taking a kick-out to play the ball before it has travelled outside the 45m line or has been played by an opposing player.


(i)  Cancel kick-out

(ii)  Throw in the ball on defenders’ 20m line in front of the scoring space.

(2)  For a player to cross a 45m line before the ball is kicked for the kick-out.

(3)  For a player(s) to, in the opinion of the referee, deliberately seek to delay the kick-out by not retreating behind the 45m lines in a timely manner.

Penalty for the above Fouls:

A 45m free off the ground and in front of the scoring space shall be awarded to the opposing team.

(4)  For a player(s) of each team to simultaneously cross the 45m line(s) before the ball is kicked from the kick-out:


A throw-in ball shall be awarded on the centre of the 45m line involved or at the centre of the field (if infringements are made on both 45m lines).


This rule is going to be very difficult to police. Linesmen will have to be deployed at both 45m lines to make sure there are no incursions into the middle third. Once the ball is struck by the keeper will the midfield area be flooded? It will give manager's and tacticians a very big role because possession is so key.

It takes about two seconds for a ball to clear the 45 metre line, this will give time for half-backs and half-forwards to compete for breaking balls but midfielders will most likely be competing for the ball against their opposite number alone.

What two players will managers chose to use in midfield? The tallest? The fastest? It will be intriguing to see how teams adapt to this rule if it is introduced.

Goalkeepers will have to kick the ball beyond the 45 but there is no assertion that the ball must carry the 45m line.

It might be worth adjusting the rule so that netminders can take the kick-out the kickout from the 20-metre line to ensure that they get the ball over the 45.

A mis-hit kickout that dribbles over the 45 could lead to a dangerous ruck between players competing for possession.

Another consequence of the rule may be that it delays proceedings. With the use of blanket defences rampant, often 29 of the 30 players on the pitch can be in the one half when there is a score or wide. What happens if we are waiting 20-30 seconds for six backs and forwards to make their way back to their third of the field? That won't make for much of a spectacle.

This rule change might not be practical.

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