New rules set to test players and managers
Theory time is over - now for the practical examinations. One of the most far-reaching rule-change packages in Gaelic football history begin trialling this weekend when Leinster stages four Bord na Móna O'Byrne Cup games.
It's planned to continue with the changes until the end of next year's Allianz League, although Central Council will review progress at a meeting on January 19.
No new amendments can be made at that stage but if a particular experiment is seen to be problematical, it may be dropped for the league.
The five rule adjustments are as follows:
1. Only three successive handpasses will be permitted, after which the ball must be kicked.
2. A player who makes a catch inside the opposition's '45 can call a mark if the ball has been kicked from outside the '45 and has travelled at least 20 metres without touching the ground.
3. All kick-outs will be from the 20-metre line.
4. All sideline kicks, except those inside the opposition's 20-metre line, must go forward.
5. Ten minutes in the 'sin bin' will replace the current black card sanction.
The action begins this evening when Louth host Wexford in Darver (5.0), followed by Laois v Meath in O'Moore Park (6.0) and Longford v Wicklow in Newtownforbes (7.0). Carlow play Westmeath in Netwatch Cullen Park tomorrow (2.0).
Louth (Wayne Kierans), Westmeath (Jack Cooney) and Longford (Pádraig Davis) are all under new management.
The four games will give an early indication of how the changes, which were drafted by the GAA's Playing Rules Committee, transfer from theory to practice in a competitive inter-county environment.
The handpass restriction is by far the most dramatic intervention and has already attracted criticism from the GPA, whose members are overwhelmingly against it. That's a bad start as such negative sentiment ahead of the launch of the experiment is likely to be followed by a concerted attempt to undermine it. Most managers have yet to comment on the handpass restriction, but those who have are also opposed to it.
They argue that it's likely to lead to even greater negativity, rather than opening up the game as the GAA authorities hope. There are also claims too that it will lead to mistakes by referees, who now have to add counting handpasses to their lengthy list of responsibilities.
The 'advanced' mark will also come under close scrutiny as it effectively means that a player who makes a simple catch (subject to the criteria outlined above) will have a free shot at goal. Many observers believe that's going too far but the Rules Committee contend that it will improve kicking skills.
Changes to the kick-outs and sideline kicks are relatively minor while the sin bin is a return to an experiment which was trialled some years ago. It was dropped after a strong campaign by managers.