Sin-bin top of the list as fans call for change in Gaelic football
FOUR out of five people who made submissions to the Football Review Committee's survey want change in Gaelic football, according to its chairman Eugene McGee.
The FRC have so far received over 3,000 replies to an online questionnaire, 500 emails and letters, in what is thought to be the largest consultative process ever undertaken by a GAA body.
McGee revealed that his committee's work so far has shown a desire for minor tweaks to the playing rules among the various stakeholders, rather than a wholesale overhaul of the game.
"The overall position is that Gaelic football is in a very strong state, but there are a lot of small things that they'd like to see changed, which are not earth-shattering decisions for the GAA," said the Offaly 1982 All-Ireland winning manager.
"A lot of the usual suspects are popping up, like the mark, the advantage rule, the sin-bin, the tap and go, the handpass and whether it should be limited or not.
"Some of these things, 80pc of people want changed. We're not a decision-making body, but at the same time if that amount of people want something changed, then I think the GAA will say 'we'll have to have a look at this'.
McGee heads up the body that includes Killian Burns (Kerry), Paul Earley (Roscommon), Tim Healy (Cork), Ciaran McBride (Tyrone), John Tobin (Galway), Tony Scullion (Derry) and former Leitrim and Dublin footballer Declan Darcy.
They are halfway through their consultation process and are on course to produce their document to GAA president Liam O'Neill by the end of November.
And while McGee was at pains to point out that the FRC could not directly implement rule changes, he believes their findings will be taken seriously by the Association's power brokers.
"It is hard to bring change in the GAA, history shows that.
"The sin-bin is a good example of that. A lot of people thought it was a good idea. People are used to it because it's so well known in rugby and it's accepted by GAA people as being a good idea but it was rejected when it was experimented with.
"The things the public would like to see brought in are not desperately difficult. The sin bin wouldn't be a life-changing event for Gaelic football.
"The sports follower is a more cosmopolitan person now. They all follow soccer and rugby and other sports, so the Gaelic football follower is exposed on TV to other sports and the sin-bin seems to have made a great impression.
"It's very precise and it's achieves the desired affect and that's why a lot of people would like to see it tried -- there seems to be no downside.
"But our policy with most of these topics would be to state the facts, and then we'll put up options of what people want in terms of change.
"We'll produce a white paper and the president can start a national debate on that if it is needed."
The process will continue over the coming weeks, with the FRC set to meet a representative group of inter-county managers as well as members of the general GAA public.
Sixty DVDs of games from minor club games to senior inter-county championship matches have also been analysed to help acquire a greater understanding of the evolution of the game in recent times.
"The DVDs will give us a forensic analysis, and you'll be dealing with other facts, while a lot of the other stuff will be just involved in opinion," added McGee.
"For example, the ratio of handpassing to kick-passing was 1:1, 30 or 40 years ago. But that has changed and it's around 4:1, and these are statistical facts that can't be argued.
"It's a wide consultation process. We'll meet the general public in October, with 10 from each county from all the various strands. We'll meet four or five counties together, and we'll have a focus group.
"We met the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) too at an early stage and we'll meet them again. People are asking why isn't there a player on the committee, but we've been meeting players in several capacities."
While the inter-county game attracts most of the spotlight, McGee accepts that there are serious issues at club level, with the timetable for competitions causing most anguish.
"Only 2pc or less play inter-county football and we're very big into that 98pc -- we have stitched them into every discussion we've had and every group of people we met.
"There's no doubt the club competitions are a cause for serious concern for the people who have responded. Young men are getting very frustrated at their games being pushed back and maybe seeing no action for months at a time. Well over 50pc are unhappy. That's a serious issue for the GAA."
The structure of the All-Ireland championship is also in the crosshairs of respondents.
McGee was part of the Football Development Committee (FDC) that, at the turn of the millennium and after three years' work, recommended the introduction of three 11-team conferences in a radical departure from the traditional provincial system.
That idea didn't gain enough traction among counties but it helped smooth the passage for the introduction of the back-door system in 2001. "Some people have gone to extraordinary lengths in their replies when it comes to changing the championship, including mapping out an entire season," McGee added.
"The GAA did change that time -- and it's 11 or 12 years on and who is to say they won't change again? People are more susceptible to change in most walks of life these days.
"Let's see what we come up with first -- it won't be that radical. If the competitions are going to change, it will have to be gradual because it wouldn't be acceptable politically, and we have to live in the real world too as regards making major decisions in the GAA."
• There is still time for football people to correspond with the FRC either by filling in the questionnaire at www.frc.ie, sending comments by email to email@example.com or posting a letter to FRC, Croke Park, Dublin 3.