McGeeney leads calls for change
Kildare boss says 'impossible' rules leave referees on hiding to nothing
WITH the passing of time comes clarity.
Kieran McGeeney sighs at the memory of Benny Coulter's controversial goal against Kildare in August's All-Ireland semi-final. It helped to deny the Lilywhites a first All-Ireland final appearance since 1998 but for McGeeney, it was a decision that points to an issue bigger than just Kildare and their advancement in the championship. Rules and their enforcement, he says, must be examined.
Usually expressionless on the sideline, McGeeney has definite ideas of what he'd like to see change in the official guide. There is, he stresses, much more good and proper about Gaelic football than bad, but the 'tackle' remains a mystery.
His argument is nothing new, but he has gone further than most to gain an understanding of what it is that officials expect from players.
Earlier this year, he met a referee representative to get an exact interpretation of that rule and brought what he learned back to Kildare's training. Still, some of the decisions he saw this year baffled him.
The handpass also caused much furore. But the application of that rule in championship games in April and September differed greatly, the Armagh native agrees.
"We can look back and say 'It was a foul, he didn't use a closed fist', or, 'It was a foul, he had his hand on his back'," McGeeney said yesterday.
"But then you can show 30 more instances from the same game with the exact same set of circumstances (and they are not given as fouls).
"Handpassing has never been a problem in our game. Go back to the golden era of the 1970s and 1980s and it was the main way we played football.
"People think now that the handpass is ruining the game and this is coming from the same people that played in that era. Our main problem is our tackle. It always has been, always will be. But nobody wants to address that."
Kildare's defeat to Down was the third successive year that the Lilywhites had crashed out of the championship with Monaghan referee Pat McEnaney taking charge.
"Our three defeats, Pat has been refereeing them and he has been harsh on us. That is being nice about it," said McGeeney.
The rule book is outdated for the modern game and needs an overhaul, with McGeeney describing many of the basic rules of the game as "impossible to implement for officials".
"People say I probably don't get the rub of the green from referees because I am always giving out about them. They are not infallible either. Every week I give out about them and so do players. It is about time people realised they are part of a structure. I feel for them because they are trying to implement rules that I think are impossible to implement.
"The four-step rule, the tackle, there are four or five particular rules that people will say are enshrined.
"That is why you have to feel for some referees. In fairness to Pat he tries to play the game the way he feels it should be played. He is trying to apply those rules and the problem is that sometimes you apply it one way and you don't apply it the next time. It is difficult.
"The GAA is doing a good job. I think the level of football is going up, despite some of our past players thinking that nobody plays as well as they did. The game is in a very healthy state. We just have to sort out some of the decision-making and we will be flying."
McGeeney has agreed to stay on board with Kildare for the next three years, with all of the 2010 panel expected to make themselves available once more. Dermot Earley will undergo a knee operation on Friday, while John Doyle has already indicated a willingness to return.
Despite improving steadily for the last three years, McGeeney believes Kildare will have to improve further.
"We have had a good three years but it is no guarantee you are going to get back there next year, especially when you are coming from Leinster or Ulster -- quarter-final spots are hard to come by.
"Laois have a new manager in there with Justy (McNulty) and they have a good squad and he will be looking at Leinster titles if not beyond it as well.
"Offaly are improving all the time. They are probably one of the teams that should have beaten Down this year. Dublin are flying and Meath are up there as well, as are Louth.
"It is probably edging towards, whether people like to admit it or not, being one of the most competitive provinces if not the most competitive province."