Monday 24 June 2019

'Farcical' handpass rule looks dead and buried as Fermanagh boss Rory Gallagher claims changes are limiting players' creativity

Rory Gallagher
Rory Gallagher

Declan Bogue

Less than two weeks before the meeting to decide the future of the experimental rules in Gaelic football, the handpass limit already seems dead and buried.

Central Council will meet on January 19 to decide if the five rule changes will continue - as intended - into the National League. However, the Standing Committee on Playing Rules are heading for a humiliation.

While managers are broadly in favour of the 10-minute sin-bin rather than a black card replacement, there have been very few strong opinions expressed either way about the necessity of a sideline kick to go forward, the 'offensive mark', or the slight tweak to the goalkeeper's kickout.

However, inter-county bosses have found themselves almost universally fuming about the limitation of three consecutive handpasses, pointing out that it favours defensive play and costs teams goalscoring opportunities.

The figures so far bear that out. Across 12 Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup matches, there have been 24 goals. That includes the Armagh victory against St Mary's where they hit six goals, which could be seen as something of an outlier.

After 12 games last year, there had been 47 goals scored - which means the amount of goals has almost halved.

In the face of such evidence, the feedback requested from by Croke Park of inter-county managers will not be positive.

A generic email was sent to managers asking for their views on the changes to the rules, and while bosses are as a body opposed to the limit on handpasses, the anecdotal feedback from supporters does not favour the change either.

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Fermanagh coach Rory Gallagher was one of the first to explain how the handpass limit would cost the attacking team and after two games he is unimpressed with the results, labelling it 'farcical'.

"I think that we were all asked to keep an open mind," said the Belleek man.

"We have been training under these circumstances for five or six weeks. We have played a couple of games, I have been at a couple of games, and I think the general perception is that it is farcical.

"It does in no way help the game. And I know the players don't enjoy it. We don't enjoy it and I think officials, off the record, will tell you they don't like it."

His opposite number on Sunday, Derry manager Damian McErlain, is similarly dissatisfied.

"The fistpass one brings a bit of frustration and probably got us off the hook a few times. Early on Fermanagh had so many men back and you could see that. Against that it is impossible to retain the ball.

"It is ridiculous to have rules so that the team will fail when attacking," he said.

Across that game in Brewster Park, there were five infringements of the handpass limit.

Declan Bonner, manager of Ulster champions Donegal, is a vehement opponent of the handpass rule.

After they beat Down on Sunday, he stated: "I can't understand how people can sit around Croke Park and come up with stuff like that. Absolutely crazy stuff."

Coaches and teams are quick to adapt to new realities and in more than one game across the weekend, opposition players who were not in possession put off their opponents by shouting that they were on their third handpass and had to kick the ball.

For Gallagher, he believes that negative publicity around Gaelic football has created a need to tinker with the rules.

"It's disappointing that the perception has been put out there that football is worse than it is," he said.

"I think there has always been bad games. At the minute there is too much publicity about the GAA, there is so much of it on television, there are newspapers to be sold, there is social media and everybody wants to comment on it.

"Maybe in certain circumstances you might bow to that pressure. In our opinion it looks like a committee were given a directive to introduce kickpassing the ball and they don't seem to realise there are shouts going in to kick it out over the sideline and get men behind the ball, this kind of thing."

He continued: "It's a non-enjoyable game to play at the minute. Derry were caught with it a couple of times, we were caught out on a fourth handpass. It leads to a lot of ludicrous short kickpassing. It leads to a lot of unforced errors and it is a disappointing set of circumstances to try and coach and play."

Gallagher said the changes are beginning to turn players off.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion, the game doesn't belong to anybody but all I can say from a playing point of view is that the boys don't want to play under those circumstances," he said.

"They just feel that it is restrictive in their decision-making when they are trying to be creative."

Belfast Telegraph

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