Half of all handpasses may be illegal - Paddy Collins
A former All-Ireland referee has claimed that half of the handpasses executed in Gaelic football are either blatant fouls or borderline illegal.
Paddy Collins, a four-time All-Ireland senior referee, has long held that the ball is thrown in much of what passes for modern-day handpassing and wants Congress to address the anomaly on the weekend after next.
He watched video re-runs of four games (Dublin v Donegal, Meath v Kildare, Tyrone v Mayo, Monaghan v Cork) in the second round of the Allianz Football League and reached a damning conclusion.
"There were around 1,400 handpasses in all. Of those, I have no doubt that 25pc were blatant throws and another 25pc were so borderline that nobody could have complained if the referees had penalised them. Only two were pulled up.
"I want to stress that I'm not blaming referees in any way for what's happening with the handpass. This has crept in over a long number of years and we're now at a stage where, in my view, it needs to be taken on.
"Central Council could have issued an interpretation of the rule at any stage to prevent throwing the ball, but it didn't happen," said Collins.
Westmeath will have a motion before Congress, which came from Collins' club, St Loman's, calling for a significant addition to the rule so that "there must be no propulsion of the ball by the non-striking hand during the execution of the pass".
Effectively, it calls for the ball to be in one hand, with the other hand making a clear, striking action.
"What we have now is not a handpass but a hands pass. Both hands are being used and it often turns into a throw. It's fairly blatant at times. This problem doesn't arise in Australian football where there's a very visible striking action of the ball.
"Whether or not anyone feels there's too much handpassing in football is not the issue here. This is about throwing the ball, which is not allowed in our game. The rule, as it stands, doesn't seem to fully cater for that and needs to be tightened up," said Collins.
He is adamant that at least one-quarter of the handpasses in the four televised NFL games on the weekend before last were illegal. That's an average of 87 per game, a figure that makes a mockery of the existing rule.
It states that there must be a "definite underhand striking action" but it's difficult for referees to make a precise call because both hands are being used in unison.
"It's straightforward enough. What we have at present is, in my view, very unsatisfactory. Far too many of the passes are illegal. I'm surprised that Central Council hasn't stepped in and done something about it. It must be clear to them too," he said.
Doubt about the legality of handpassing have arisen repeatedly over many decades. Indeed, Collins himself was frequently caught up in the debate in a lengthy and highly-regarded career, during which he refereed the 1976, '81, '84 and '89 All-Ireland senior finals.
He has always held that there must be a clearly visible striking action in a handpass but believes that has long since disappeared from the requirement list.
It will be interesting to see how Congress reacts to the Westmeath proposal. There has been growing unease in recent times over the amount of handpassing in football and if, as Collins alleges, as much as 50 per cent is illegal, then it's difficult to see how Congress can vote down the motion.
While Westmeath's motion seeks to strengthen the current handpass rule, Clare want a serious restriction applied. They are proposing that after two handpasses have been completed, the ball must be played away by foot.
It's a radical call and is most unlikely to be accepted by Congress. Such a significant rule change is usually made after extensive trialling, which has not happened in this case. Clare's chances of having it accepted are further reduced by the fact that, if passed, the new rule would be in place for this year's championship.
That would lead to uproar among players and managers, who would be facing a whole new scenario without having had a real opportunity to work under the new rule,
A further handpass proposal comes from Kildare, who want goalkeepers who receive the ball from a colleague by hand to play it away with the boot.
The Football Review Committee, chaired by Eugene McGee, acknowledged concerns over the proliferation of the handpassing in its report in late 2013.
However, they did not recommend any restriction but suggested that close monitoring was required to gauge the ongoing impact of handpassing on the game.