'Mark' the only new rule that will test referees - Maurice Deegan
The 'mark' in the attacking half is the only football rule change that could cause some implementation difficulties according to one of game's most experienced referees.
Maurice Deegan expects no problems with restricted handpassing (limited to three), 'forward only' line kicks or the 'sin bin', but concedes that deciding on the advanced 'mark' will be challenging in some instances.
"Many of them will be easy to decide on but obviously there will be others that won't. We'll just have to do the best we can," he said.
Under the new rule, a player in the attacking half can claim a 'mark' if he cleanly collects the ball from a pass kicked from outside the '45', provided it has travelled 20 metres.
The difficulty for the referee will arise in cases where it's marginal whether the ball has travelled 20 metres and/or whether contact was made inside or outside the 45-metre line.
Since a player who calls a 'mark' can stop play and shoot for goal, referees will be under added pressure to decide whether the ball has travelled 20 metres.
In many cases, he will effectively be deciding whether a player is awarded a free shot at goal for making a simple catch, so it's an aspect of play that will come under sharp media focus, especially on TV where it will be possible to gauge if the ball has travelled 20 metres.
"Obviously, a tight watch will be kept on it by the media, but all referees can do is call it honestly. We won't always get it right but there's nothing that can be done about that," said Deegan.
He has no qualms over the three-handpass change and believes that referees will adapt quickly to the added responsibility. He experienced counting handpasses on International Rules (six are allowed) duty and didn't find it distracting.
"You get used to it. It will be even easier with three handpasses. I'm not saying mistakes won't be made but I don't think it will be a big problem. Players will get used to it as they go along too and be careful not to make the mistake of making a fourth handpass.
"It will take players and referees a while to adapt but, once they do, it should be okay. After that, it will be up to others to decide if the change is benefiting the game," said Deegan.
The GPA urged the GAA to use two referees per game during the experimental rule period in pre-season tournaments and the Allianz League, but it wasn't considered at last Saturday's Central Council meeting.
The GPA believe that loading extra responsibilities on one referee increases the risk of error. Calls for two referees have increased in recent years, but elicited no reaction from the GAA authorities.
Deegan believes there's no need for change and that one referee is adequate, provided he gets the necessary support from linesmen and umpires.
"I'm not speaking for other referees but I certainly see no need for two," Deegan added.
"I know what it's like to work with another referee in International Rules and enjoyed it but our own game is different.
"The fear would be that you might have two different interpretations of something like the tackle. It's very straightforward in International Rules, but less so in Gaelic football.
"So you could have confusion and indeed anger if players felt that the rule on something like tackling was being interpreted differently in opposite halves of the pitch.
"And then there's the question of whether it would apply to club games too. Where would all the referees comes from? If you had to have two for every club game up and down the country, a lot of them might go unplayed," said Deegan.
He also cites the referee/umpire relationship as a factor in the two-referee debate.
"Every referees has his own umpires, with whom he has built up a strong relationship. That's very important. But if you had two referees, which umpires would be used? Little things like that would have to be considered," he said.
Paul Earley, former Irish International Rules manager and All Star winner with Roscommon, believes that it's time to examine the impact of fatigue on referees over the course of game that last between 75 and 80 minutes.
A long time advocate of doubling up, he questions whether a referee is capable of making good decisions towards the end of a game, at which stage he may have covered ten kilometres.
"Perhaps we need a new compelling argument which is based around sports science, including analysis of the fatigue element on referees and their ability to make good decisions when fatigued," he said.
Football rules had to be changed – McEniff
Brian McEniff predicts that all but one of the football rule changes will work well, but feels that an opportunity has been lost by not making it obligatory for kick-outs to pass the ‘45’.
The former All-Ireland winning manager with Donegal and Irish International Rules team boss is not in favour of the ‘mark’ in the attacking half, believing that it won’t do much for the game.
“I don’t know where they pulled that one from but the rest are very interesting. They will take a bit of getting used to, but I think people will come around to them,” he said.
“They are well worth a try. Something had to be done to make football more attractive. At least we’ll know after a few months of watching games with the new rules whether they’re the answer or not.
“It’s always good to try something different and I think most people would agree that the rules of football needed to be looked at,” he said.
He is disappointed that Central Council opted against the proposal for all kick-outs to pass the ‘45’, a decision which was made on the basis that, in certain circumstances, the kicker may not be able to get the required distance.
Meanwhile, McEniff’s Great Northern Hotel in Bundoran will host a special event on Saturday night to mark the 50th anniversary of the first All-Ireland club football final between St Joseph’s (Bundoran-Ballyshannon) and Dunmore MacHales (Galway).
McEniff was a part of the St. Joseph’s team that beat Dunmore, featuring Galway All-Ireland three-in-a-row winners, Seamus Leydon, John and Tommy Keenan, John and Pat Donnellan, over a two-legged final in Ballyshannon and Tuam Stadium.
Dunmore’s Bertie Coleman was one of the driving forces behind the competition, which didn’t receive official GAA backing until 1970.
“Our two games with Dunmore were brilliant and did a lot to convince people the All-Ireland championship was a good idea. Bertie had been driving the idea for years – no one did more to get it off the ground,” said McEniff.