Wednesday 18 September 2019

Martin Breheny: 'Vested interests can't be allowed stop gaelic football rule changes'

Breheny Beat

How Central Council delegates vote on the proposed football rule changes on Saturday will shape the direction of the game. Photo: Sportsfile
How Central Council delegates vote on the proposed football rule changes on Saturday will shape the direction of the game. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

In case it has escaped your attention, next Saturday could bring some of the most dramatic developments in Gaelic football history, the day when the game was changed utterly.

If the full package of proposed rule tweaks are accepted by Central Council, next year's Allianz League will be unrecognisable by comparison with what has applied up to now.

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No more incessant handpassing (the ball must be kicked after three transfers); all sideline kicks, except those inside the opposition's 20-metre line, going forward; a 'mark' allowed for a clean catch in the attacking half, provided the ball is kicked from outside the 45-metre line and travels 20 metres; kick-outs must cross the 45-metre line; the current black card replaced with ten minutes in the 'sin bin'.

Obviously, the handpass restrictions, the attacking mark and the kick-out change are the three big-ticket items, two of which face opposition from the GPA.

They announced last week that they were "strongly against" the handpass and kick-out proposals. They also oppose the sideline change, albeit less vehemently.

Deliberations They are "marginally" in favour of the mark and sin-bin proposals. All of which raises the question - what weight should be attached to the opinions of inter-county players ?

They are certainly key stakeholders and fully entitled to express their opinions, but are they any more important than club players, who outnumber them on a vast scale?

Are they any more important than ordinary club members? And aren't the public, who pay to be entertained, entitled to consideration?

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Players and managers have a history of opposing rule changes, which is understandable up to a point. Players are comfortable with what they know and feel they are under enough pressure without having to adapt to new rules. That's fine, but avoiding change solely to not force players out of their comfort zone isn't good for any game.

Meanwhile, high-profile managers, whose opinions on rules have always been given disproportionate weight, tend to take change personally. For some reason they seem to think that rule tweaks are aimed specifically at their teams.

In many instances, rule changes are vague concepts, since there's no way of knowing for sure how they will impact on the actual game. That only becomes clear once they are trialled for a time, thereby showing up if the law of unintended consequence applies.

I have doubts about the latest series of proposed changes. It's not so much any individual one, but rather the overall package which is too extensive. I believe that the Standing Committee on Playing Rules would have been better advised to concentrate solely on the handpass issue, which has become the big bugbear among the public.

The Committee's only recommendation is to limit it to three (successive) when other options were available.

What about allowing forward handpasses only? Alternatively, why not insist on them all going backwards, as put forward by former Cavan and Waterford footballer, John O'Dwyer. He contends that if only backward handpasses were allowed, it would open up the game, as the opposition forced the team in possession into losing ground. The only way they could go forward was either by kicking or soloing the ball.

There are other variations too on how the handpass problem could be addressed, but by limiting their options to one, the Committee have greatly reduced the chances of getting any change.

That has been further exacerbated by their call to introduce the changes in next year's league. Obviously, they want all five to be accepted on Saturday, in which case a completely different game would apply next spring. That's a genuine concern for many people.

The current rules would return for the championship, after which a decision would be taken on whether to adopt any - or all - of the trialled ones on a permanent basis.

The league is too important to counties to play it under rules that have not been trialled extensively in lesser competitions.

That doesn't mean that the handpass proposal - or indeed any of others - aren't good ideas.

However, the danger is that by (a) offering only one option on the handpass, (b) proposing so many changes at the same time, (c) calling for their introduction in the league, and (d) not launching a more vigorous information campaign, the Committee have reduced the prospects of getting any change.

Unlike previous rule-change committees, they held no media briefings, either to launch the initial package in early October or the amended one last week.

Explaining to the media and, by extension the public, the rationale behind their thinking would have generated much more productive debate than what has gone on over the past six weeks.

It was a lost opportunity, the negative impact of which could become apparent on Saturday.

Are these five the only members of the dual club?

The question on my email looked simple enough: other than Anthony Cunningham (Galway hurling/Roscommon football), who has managed inter-county teams in both codes?

Pat Gilroy (Dublin) was obvious enough, but after that? I can come up with four others, but I'm not claiming it's the definitive list and would be interested to hear if there are more in that very exclusive club.

Tony Dempsey (Wexford), Seán Boylan (Meath) and former GAA president Nickey Brennan (Kilkenny) all managed their counties' seniors in both codes, while Frank Dawson had stints in charge of Down hurlers and Antrim footballers.

Boylan, who managed Meath footballers for 23 years (1982/'95), had one season (1981/'82) as player/manager with the hurlers. Obviously, Boylan the manager wasn't easy to impress as he never selected Boylan the player on the team . . .

Club hurling's semi-final rota needs rebalancing

How fair is this? Waterford champions Ballygunner had to win three games against top opposition (Midleton, Ballyea, Na Piarsaigh) to reach the All-Ireland club hurling semi-final, a prize they claimed last Sunday when winning the Munster title.

On the same afternoon, St. Thomas' won the Galway final, a success which also carried qualification to the All-Ireland semi-final.

Antrim champions Cushendall are also in the semi-final, having had one win (v Ballycran) to secure the Ulster title.

Meanwhile, Ballyboden-St Enda's have won two games in Leinster and are still only in the final, where they will play Ballyhale Shamrocks.

The All-Ireland semi-final rota pits St. Thomas' against Cushendall next February, with Ballygunner playing the Leinster winners.

Despite the many changes in hurling structures over the years, club hurling remains stuck in a provincial set-up, which is blatantly lopsided.

At the very least, the Connacht (Galway)-Ulster semi-final rota should be discontinued.

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