Tuesday 12 December 2017

Congress must ensure rule changes get fair trial

Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

The FRC went easy on the handpass but their plans deserve an airing, says Colm O'Rourke

The first thing to remember about the Football Review Committee's proposals is that this is only the beginning – not the end. There is more to come and there is also the tricky bit of getting the proposals through Congress.

There has never been a more comprehensive approach to finding out what the plain people of Ireland feel about the game, so nobody can complain about the process or the results which have been distilled by the committee. Eugene McGee has experience of every angle of the GAA and would not have been afraid of radical suggestions if he thought them necessary.

One of the questions facing any committee is whether they should be leaders or followers. In this case they have responded to the public and that is what democracy is about. This group are not like De Valera, who looked into his own heart to decide what was best for the ordinary people of Ireland. On this occasion they have a voice, even if I always feel that the GAA needs a bit of dictatorship rather than more democracy. The broad thrust of the proposals will hopefully go through and maybe they should be presented as a block with either all being passed or all dumped out. If you select a committee to go to this trouble, then they should be backed.

Yet I am glad to be in a minority on not agreeing with some things. As regular readers know, the starting point for me has always been some restriction on the handpass to ensure that kicking becomes the dominant skill of Gaelic football. If this means a conditioned game, then so be it.

The statistics quoted show a drop in the ratio this year of handpassing to kicking, but in some of the games at the business end of the championship, the figures shown on TV indicated a ratio of nearly four to one in favour of handpasses. There are lies, damn lies and statistics, of course, but while there have been previous splurges of handpassing in different eras which went away, I don't see present trends changing. And if you took frees from the hand out of it, the art of kicking has disappeared for a lot of players.

It would make for interesting research to see how many players in the latter stages of the championship either never or seldom kicked the ball. That would reveal that players can survive and prosper without the principal skill of Gaelic football. So for me that was the starting point, but the committee were like Amy Winehouse when she was told to go to rehab – she said 'no, no, no'. At least McGee has remained open to the possibility of change should present trends continue; I can see him coming back to this very quickly.

Another surprising thing to me from the survey was that 75 per cent of people thought inter-county football was 'good' or 'very good'. Well, I am firmly in the grouch brigade on this one and surprised that only 25 per cent think the game is very poor entertainment. A lot of it is just rotten stuff to my eyes.

I like the idea of a clean pick-up. A player can still pick it up with the toe if he wants to, while the mark, advantage rule and a clock are hardly going to present too many difficulties. I can, however, see the proposals on yellow cards running into trouble. It may work in county matches where three players who get yellows are replaced and after that no sub is allowed, but I was over a Junior C club team last year, the third team in the club, and having 15 players all the time was an achievement.

In many of those league games there were very few subs on either side and this proposal could lead to 13-a-side matches. The danger is that the referee won't give yellow cards at all as he knows the score. Therein lies the problem with many rules: what happens at the highest level must also travel down to the roots.

Take the other proposal on extending games at club level to 70 minutes. I think it would be a great idea if it was restricted to senior matches, but again I would have to take last year's experience on board. If our junior players had to play for 70 minutes, you'd need a fleet of Order of Malta ambulances on the line with oxygen while the injuries would mount up with an increase in claims. Clubs could do without that.

Maybe some modifications are possible before Congress, where distinctions could be made on this basis – after all, the county and club have been treated differently so why not do the same between senior and other grades at club level? Yet if it comes to all duck or no dinner on these proposals, I would like to see them all tried. At the very worst we can always go back and changes in every walk of life involve some pain.

Meanwhile, the football season rages on in Ruislip today where London's Tír Chonaill Gaels entertain – if that is the correct word – Dr Crokes in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

The dream of the exiles is to win an All-Ireland and Tír Chonaill Gaels are certainly the team which has promised most in this regard. They have the right man over them in Paddy Carr who has already won a club title with Kilmacud Crokes. And this London outfit have been as committed as any team in this country in pursuit of the ultimate dream.

Their journey has put them on a collision course with one of the best club sides in Ireland today. And Dr Crokes have the ultimate footballer for all seasons in Colm Cooper.

The Gooch is the most admired player in the game today as he changes from club to county and back again without giving anything short of sheer brilliance to both causes. He seems to never be off the treadmill and deserves to be enjoying a Christmas break at this stage of the year – I'm sure Tír Chonaill Gaels would be very happy to give it to him.

It is obvious too that winning a club title is very important to Gooch and that is bad news for the home side today. You can be sure he was not wandering around the West End of London last night. This weekend is business and the Gaels will present a mighty effort. Their domination of London football recently shows how organised they are, but they are meeting a formidable force in Crokes who should progress to make this the most competitive All-Ireland club championship ever played.

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