Sunday 21 July 2019

Colm Keys: 'Referees should be key stakeholders in weekend review of experimental playing rules'


David Hassan, Chairman of the Standing Committee on Playing Rules, speaking during an Experimental Football Rule Changes media briefing at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
David Hassan, Chairman of the Standing Committee on Playing Rules, speaking during an Experimental Football Rule Changes media briefing at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Last week in these pages the chairman of the Standing Committee on Playing Rules, David Hassan, outlined how the review of the five experimental rules being trialled in pre-season competitions would play out at this weekend's Central Council meeting where delegates will decide whether to give them all the green light for a further 116 league games or spike some of them because of what he described as "unintended consequences".

The analysis that delegates will view will be independently sourced by GAA analyst Rob Carroll from whose work much of the statistical evidence that led to the decisions taken on what to trial was initially mined.

Hassan suggested Carroll would take footage from 10 to 12 games and would not be guided as to what direction he should take.

What he comes up with should be of keen interest to all stakeholders, particularly in relation to the three handpass restriction but a significant lift in the number of kicked passes to handpasses is sure to be a feature of his findings.

Whether that's enough to mitigate against the negative tidings of those players and managers at the coalface, frustrated by the imposition, remains to be seen.

After 43 pre-season games, the main flaws of the experiment have been well documented with an estimated 20pc year-on-year drop in goals and a detection rate by referees that is, on limited evidence, hardly encouraging for the experiment's long-term future.

For any new rule like it, the ability for it to be applied as consistently and accurately as possible is paramount.

In Tuam Stadium on Sunday, for the Connacht League semi-final between Mayo and Galway, our count on the number of times four handpasses were completed in sequence was eight, four of which we felt went undetected.

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At least we thought there were four handpasses each time in sequence. But could we have been that sure?

From an elevated position at the back of the stand with no player blocking the line of vision it should have been relatively straightforward, it should have been easy to keep track of handpassing sequences but it wasn't.

Counting handpasses can quickly become an obsession, taking away from the monitoring of other aspects of a game.

How different can it be for referees? Probably much more difficult given how they have been the object of so much commentary with players and supporters barracking them over what stage a sequence is at.

Trying to maintain concentration with all that noise in circulation adds to an already challenging task.

So it's no surprise to see four handpasses routinely missed. Or in the case of Derry and Tyrone's McKenna Cup semi-final on Sunday, courtesy of a video posted by Derry performance analyst Ben McGuckin on Twitter yesterday, how some sequences don't even get to four but are blown in error.

The idea that merely adding a handpass count to an already bulging list of tasks for a referee was fine in theory but the reality has been different.

Referees already struggle with counting steps unbroken by a bounce or a solo and it's something that they, as officials and players, have been attuned to all their lives.

There are bigger decisions in a game to monitor but because of the prevalence of handpass sequences so much time has been taken up with this alone.

The review of the other experiments will also be interesting.

A drop in the number of short kick-outs that could restore some balance to restarts could be established.

A dominant 10-minute period for the team with the extra man when there's been a sin-binning?

An increase in the number of longer kicks in search of a mark may be something else that the review will uncover.

But so much of the focus is on the handpass restriction and its impact on the game. Whatever about that the ability to apply it evenly and as correctly as possible must be established first and foremost.

We're not sure what stakeholding referees will have, if any, in Saturday's review. Often passive and relying on the default public statement that they are only there to apply the rules, not make them, their difficulty, or otherwise, of applying this rule is a key part to arriving at any decision this weekend.

Irish Independent

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