Sunday 15 December 2019

Martin Breheny: Handpass virus is out of control

Dubs' bore-fest endgame was final straw - it's time for a clampdown

Ciaran Kilkenny continues the hand-passing sequence, under pressure from Meath’s Cillian O’Sullivan, as Dublin wind down the clock with a keep-ball exercise on Sunday. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Ciaran Kilkenny continues the hand-passing sequence, under pressure from Meath’s Cillian O’Sullivan, as Dublin wind down the clock with a keep-ball exercise on Sunday. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It has passed largely without comment, which is understandable, since the final quarter of a game where the outcome isn't in doubt attracts little attention unless hit by a controversy or some unusual incident.

Neither intruded on the closing stages of Dublin v Meath last Sunday, yet they are worth re-visiting. Why? Because if you want the ultimate example of Gaelic football's continued drive into self-destruction as a spectacle, this is it. Truly, it makes you wonder where the hell the game is going.

Dublin v Meath is still available on the RTE Player so check out the final 20 minutes. Warning: only watch it you're not planning to drive a car, operate heavy machinery or do anything else that requires full alertness afterwards.

In fact, this will dull your senses to such a degree that it's probably best viewed just before bedtime.

Once Meath were out-scored by 0-5 to 0-1 in the third quarter, stretching Dublin's lead to seven points, it never looked remotely likely that the Royals would upset the mountainous odds.

Even in the first half, which finished with Meath only three points adrift, there was a sense of inevitability around Croke Park.

At no time was there any sign that Meath would seriously trouble Dublin.

That was certainly beyond doubt in the final 20 minutes, which not only underlined the extent of the divide between the teams but also highlighted the idiocy of the rules as they stand.

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For reasons on which we can only speculate, Dublin used the last quarter as a keep-ball training exercise. They hand-passed no fewer than 73 times in 20 minutes, often laterally, sometimes in a backward loop and, all the time, at a pace which was several gears below their capabilities.

Meath backed off, jamming into their own half, presumably to make it as difficult as possible for Dublin to score goals. With the Qualifiers ahead, Meath completed the game on a desperate damage limitation exercise, designed to retain as much confidence as possible for the visit to Derry.

Dublin played along with it, content to crab across the field in yawn-inducing hand-passing sequences.

Diarmuid Connolly, clearly no lover of the handpass unless when absolutely necessary, was about the only Dublin player who looked as if he wanted to take on Meath's packed defence at full pace.

Maybe Dublin were keen to practise their ball-retention skills, with a view to what might be needed later on. They were fully-entitled to do that, although it's unlikely that repeated hand passing to unmarked colleagues in the middle third, while the opposition funnelled back, taught them a whole lot. It certainly wouldn't be much use against the better, more aggressive opposition they are likely to encounter later on.

What it did do was show up the nonsense of allowing unfettered use of the handpass, for long a seriously destructive virus in the game.

If the best team in the country opts to deploy it so monotonously when comfortably ahead of inferior opposition, what chance is there of limiting its odious impact elsewhere?

In 2012, the Football Review Committee, chaired by Eugene McGee, opted against proposing a restriction on the handpass, pointing it out that its high usage might have been temporary.

However, they noted that their research had shown a 43pc decrease in footpassing over the previous 10 years and recommended that "this trend should be monitored to ensure that kicking remains a fundamental part of the game".


Four years on, it's clear that far from the balance between handpassing and footpassing improving in the latter's direction, the opposite has happened to an overwhelming degree.

Usually, Dublin are by no means the most frequent handpassers. Yet, for some reason, they took to it most enthusiastically on the home stretch last Sunday evening, turning the exchanges into the ultimate borefest. It was the final straw for those who see the handpass for the blight that it is.

The handpass obsession has already infected lesser teams to an alarming degree, sucking so much entertainment value from the game.

When will the legislators recognise what's happening and intervene?

Or do they seriously believe that there isn't an issue to be dealt with?

Restricting the number of consecutive handpasses allowed would certainly be worth a try. If that sparked some unforeseen consequence, deal with it.

Fear of what might happen in the future is never an excuse for ducking a problem.

Irish Independent

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