Friday 23 August 2019

GAA president John Horan hints backpass ban could be the next major change in football rulebook


GAA President John Horan and the Sam Maguire Cup at the official launch of the All-Ireland SFC series in Scotstown yesterday. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
GAA President John Horan and the Sam Maguire Cup at the official launch of the All-Ireland SFC series in Scotstown yesterday. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

For close to half an hour in the Scotstown clubhouse, GAA president John Horan answered around 50 questions on more than a dozen topics.

In that part of the world, the north Monaghan club are busy chasing their own five-in-a-row of county titles, but perhaps, not surprisingly, it was Dublin and their five-in-a-row-chasing footballers that took centre stage for a while.

The big-ticket items around the level of funding for Dublin and their home comforts in the 'Super 8s' were covered, as was the move towards a two-tier football championship.

More mundane issues around the introduction of a possible ban on the backpass in football were also dealt with. The GAA is a broad church and being president requires a knowledge of a broad range of subjects.

Later this year, there's every chance Horan will hand over Sam Maguire to Stephen Cluxton as the county make history and win five in a row.

But before that, there's a good chance he'll field more questions around Dublin's funding. On paper, the numbers look startling but he insists different counties are funded in different ways and that when everything is considered, the money going to Dublin would look a lot less stark.

And he plans on making that clear.

"I think a different analysis would give a different picture and I think if people look at the trend, that the gap is narrowing."

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Horan was also pressed on Dublin's upcoming two home games in Croke Park in the Super 8s series.

As he pointed out, Congress voted overwhelmingly against removing Dublin from headquarters for their 'home' game, dismissing the notion that they should be moved to Parnell Park to ensure the integrity of the competition.  

"Now, you want Dublin to play an All-Ireland series game in Parnell Park where we could get 9,000 packed into it? Do you really think that's practical?" he asked.

Is it not as practical as it is for anyone else?

"If they're prepared to play it in a bigger venue to get more people the opportunity to go to the game surely that should be it?"

Much of Horan's last few weeks and months have been consumed by the ambitious proposal to introduce a second tier into the football championship.

Amendments to the plans that have been published are possible but they will be ready for a Central Council meeting in September to be ready for October's Special Congress.

"The wording could change," he agreed. "It looks like your status will be decided by where you actually started in the league, but in fairness, and I've been talking to a few people, it might actually be fairer to base it on where you finish.

"If you get promoted into Division 2, it might be a better option than if you get relegated out of it. These things are there to be discussed, that's why we've time between now and the Central Council meeting in September.

"But if you think about it, if you're a relegated team as against a team with the momentum of getting promoted out of Division 3, who should get the benefit? Or do you have to wait 12 months? In 12 months' time you could be relegated again, so that's something we're going to look at."

A way back into the race for Sam Maguire, in the same way the Joe McDonagh finalists enter the All-Ireland hurling series, is unlikely to be included but Horan insists the competition will live or die on its merits.

"It will always be up for review. If it is working it is working and if it is failing to serve its purpose… you have got to live in the real world. If you find yourself in Division 3 or 4 in the league, you are not there out of bad luck, you are there because of results and the position you are at that time.

"I can understand counties who are strong saying it is beneath to us be in this but maybe that is what you need to... who would have said two years ago that Sligo would be playing Offaly in the Christy Ring but that is where Offaly are and they have to work themselves out of it."

Special Congress will also deal with the possible introduction of the experimental football rules that were trialled earlier this year while the backpass will also come under the microscope.

"A proposal to change the rule does not necessarily have to be experimented on. The stats on it in the 20 games analysed in the National League there was an average of 10 passes per game," Horan stated.

"If you take out the goalkeeper as the safety valve, it allows the opposition to press up much more and draw them out, rather than go behind them.

"It was unfortunate it was not in the mix at the particular time but it is there now and it will be put for people to talk about."

Horan on...

Why SFC proposals opted for two tiers rather than three:

"If you knew how hard it is to get two through, you would not bite on three. Three would not work. You would end up with eight teams in the competition, so you would be talking about the Tommy Murphy which failed before. It is a case if you can get two over the line, get two over the line. If you go for three, it will just fail."

On whether a group looking at experimental hurling rules might look at introducing a black card:

"Let's not jump the gun."

Whether a sixth team could be introduced to the Leinster SHC:

"That's the balance that is Leinster at the moment. There's nothing off the table but I just don't see it happening for next year. Nobody has pushed it that much yet."

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