Sunday 17 February 2019

Managers call the shots as GAA abandon hand-pass rule

The five changes which had been drawn up by the Standing Committee on the Playing Rules had been used in the pre-season provincial tournaments (stock picture)
The five changes which had been drawn up by the Standing Committee on the Playing Rules had been used in the pre-season provincial tournaments (stock picture)

Seán McGoldrick

The GAA has abandoned its controversial proposal to restrict the use of the hand-pass during the forthcoming Allianz Football League. Members of the association's Central Council yesterday voted 25-23 to drop the rule, which restricted the number of consecutive hand-passes to three.

The other four experimental rule changes will be trialled during the league but will not be used during the 2019 championship. Instead, a Special Congress scheduled for the autumn will determine whether they will be made permanent.

The five changes which had been drawn up by the Standing Committee on the Playing Rules had been used in the pre-season provincial tournaments. There had been mixed reaction to their impact but by far the most unpopular - at least among managers and players - was the restriction on the number of hand-passes allowed.

There was a less hostile reaction to the other four proposals, which were: (1) Sideline balls must be kicked forward except within the opposition 20-metre line; (2) An attacking or defensive mark may be taken inside the 45 provided the ball was kicked in play from outside the 45 and travelled at least 20 metres; (3) A black card infraction to be punished by 10 minutes in a sin-bin; and (4) Kick-outs to be taken from the 20m line.

Crucially, there were suggestions from referees that they were finding it difficult to implement the hand-pass rule, though there was a view that it was too early to judge its impact after a handful of games in pre-season tournaments.

Furthermore, a presentation from sports performance analyst Rob Carroll demonstrated that there had been a dramatic drop in the number of hand-passes since last summer's All-Ireland series.

His findings based on ten games reviewed showed that the hand-pass to foot-pass ratio dropped from 3.5 to 1 last summer to just 1.3 to 1 in the recent provincial tournaments.

In the Derry v Tyrone McKenna Cup match, for example, there were 252 hand-passes to 223 foot-passes, a ratio of just 1.1 to 1. Carroll also found that there was only a five per cent increase in the number of passes that went backwards despite there being more than 100 kicks on average per game.

He also found that the number of uncontested kicked passes - kick-passes with no chance of the opposition intercepting the ball - rose by four per cent from 68 per cent to 72 per cent, despite the increase in the number of kicks.

Contrary to popular myth, Carroll also found that referees only missed 1.6 hand-pass rule breaches per game.

The decision to drop the hand-pass rule will be seen as a victory for county managers, although players had also expressed their opposition through a survey conducted by the GPA. But the vote underlines how powerful the inter-county managerial lobby has become in the GAA.

Effectively, it is now impossible to change any playing rule unless the team managers - who are often opposed to change because it makes the game less predictable and their job more taxing - are on board.

Meanwhile, delegates voted to increase the price of stand tickets for league matches from €15 to €20 (€12 to €15 for pre-purchased tickets), while the price of All-Ireland final stand tickets goes from €80 to €90. Semi-final tickets increase in price to €50, and there will also be increases for earlier rounds of the championship.

A GAA statement released yesterday confirmed the increases, added that "Additional revenue from these Championship ticket changes will be ringfenced to fund an increase in grants to club facility redevelopments to a new high of €3m, fund additional grant aid to overseas units and the staging of the GAA World Games in July, and make increases in capital grants and funding to county boards.

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