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Eugene McGee: Could this 'rule' change kickstart new football era?

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The sun sets over Fraher Field during Cratloe's Munster SFC semi-final defeat to the Waterford champions, The Nire, yesterday. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

The sun sets over Fraher Field during Cratloe's Munster SFC semi-final defeat to the Waterford champions, The Nire, yesterday. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

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The sun sets over Fraher Field during Cratloe's Munster SFC semi-final defeat to the Waterford champions, The Nire, yesterday. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

The Australian Football League (AFL), the body that runs Australian Rules, football, has been blamed in the past for being the catalyst for some controversial rule changes in Gaelic football.

Former Down star Joe Lennon has been one of the most forceful voices in that regard. Joe has no time for Aussie Rules and claims it has done a lot of damage to the fabric of Gaelic football.

I wonder if the wheel is about to turn full circle? Could it be that a rule change being introduced at the behest of the AFL for next Saturday's Test game against Ireland in Perth will pave the way for a major change in the rules of our own game.

It is proposed that for kickouts next Saturday the ball must reach the 45-metre line at least.

The fact that Australia have a guy on their team who is 6'8 tall is not totally unconnected to this proposal.

Some people in our own game have become very concerned about short kick-outs in the past few years.

This sees defenders actually left unmarked by opponents and the goalkeeper can tap the ball to his colleague with the aim of starting a handpass regime all the way up the field.

TACTIC

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Ex-Offaly and Laois manager, Tom Cribbin, has been announced as Westmeath's new supremo. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

Ex-Offaly and Laois manager, Tom Cribbin, has been announced as Westmeath's new supremo. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Ex-Offaly and Laois manager, Tom Cribbin, has been announced as Westmeath's new supremo. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

We have seen numerous examples of this over the past decade with Tyrone one of the first to utilise it, but many other leading teams have adopted it also.

The purpose of this tactic is to genuflect at the high altar of the modern game - POSSESSION.

This word dominates modern-day coaching and thinking at all levels of the game from U-14 to All-Ireland level. The surest way of gaining possession is for the goalkeeper to kick short to a corner-back and get the handpassing chain in motion.

Of course, sometimes even that elementary 'skill' can backfire as Donegal learned to their cost in the All-Ireland final when goalkeeper Paul Durcan simply gifted the ball to Kieran Donaghy in front of goals. He said 'thank you very much, Paul', stuck the ball in the net and won the All-Ireland for Kerry as well as an All Star for himself, just like that.

What did the poet say about the best-laid plans of mice and men ?

The decision to change the rule for Saturday's game in Perth will be watched with great interest. Could it spark a move to introduce a similar rule in Gaelic football?

At a time when a huge number of football people are disgusted with the number of handpasses in the game, this idea could take wings because it would remove a large parcel of handpasses at the stroke of a pen.

Let's say it requires about three hand-passes to get the ball from the short kick-out to the 45-metre line and multiply that by about 25 kick-outs - that could mean the removal of 150 handpasses between the two teams, presuming that both were playing the same type of possession game.

Imagine the change that would bring about and the scope for high-catching it would generate in the middle third of the field, something else that the vast majority of GAA fans want, even if the team managers do not.

If handpassing continues to dominate football as it does now, there will definitely be moves to curtail that skill sooner rather than later.

The proposal to lengthen the kick-outs could be a simple method of achieving that while still allowing plenty of handpassing all over the field.

Let's have a look at Saturday's game and see what merits, if any, it brings to the compromise game. After all, GAA people accepted the frees and sideline kicks from the hands because of Aussie Rules and this would be a far lesser change.

By the way, that decision regarding frees was one of the worst ever made in Gaelic football.

What was once a major attraction in the game - frees from the ground - has been largely abandoned. Just look at the attraction kickers like Jonny Sexton bring to rugby, but the GAA lads in their wisdom have turned their backs on the same skill.

Cribbin's Westmeath move signals end of annual managerial merry-go-round

The whirly-gig that is nowadays an annual part of the GAA when it comes to appointing team managers has just been completed with the recent appointment of Tom Cribbin as Westmeath supremo.

It is interesting to note that no fewer than eight first-time managers have been appointed this year: Colin Kelly (Louth), Shane Ward (Leitrim), Jonny McGee (Wicklow), Frank Dawson (Antrim), Jim McCorry (Down), David Power (Wexford), Turlough O'Brien (Carlow) and Rory Gallagher (Donegal).

I wish them all well. Managing a county football team is a tremendous honour nowadays but is an extremely demanding job also particularly if you are not a native of the county.

The only advice I would give the debutants is to spend more time working with your players improving their football skills - that is the only way players from weaker counties in particular can improve. So less time devoted to sophisticated training regimes and more time spent practising the skills of the game...

Also interesting is the fact that 12 county managers are currently taking charge of at least their second different county: Brian McIvor (Derry/Donegal), Kieran McGeeney (Kildare/Armagh), Malachy O'Rourke (Monaghan/Fermanagh), Peter McGrath (Down/Fermanagh), Tomas O Flatharta (Laois/Galway/Westmeath), Jason Ryan (Wexford/Kildare), Pat Flanagan (Offaly/Westmeath/Sligo), Kevin Walsh (Sligo/Galway), John Evans (Tipperary/Roscommon), Tom McGlinchey (Waterford/Tipperary), Tom Cribben (Westmeath/Offaly/Laois), Niall Carew (Waterford/Sligo). Flanagan, O Flatharta and Cribbin are taking the reins in their third different county.

Interesting also is that 12 of those appointments are concerning counties in Division 3 or 4 which probably explains the high rate of casualties among county team managers each year.

And by my reckoning 16 county teams this coming year will be managed by people from their native county with the sobering thought that in the past 40 years only three All-Irelands have been won by 'outside' managers, two by John O'Mahony with Galway and one by myself with Offaly.

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