Mickey Whelan: Time to ban football handpass

Former Dublin coach Mickey Whelan is in favour of abolishing the handpass in Gaelic football.

Whelan, who was field coach to the Pat Gilroy-managed team that won the 2011 All-Ireland, has been a hugely influential if underplayed figure in Dublin football circles in recent years, both among coaches operating within the county and with the core of the current Dublin team that have won four All-Irelands and four NFL titles in this decade.

An All-Ireland-winning player back in 1963, and at 77 still an adjunct lecturer in DCU, Whelan is considered one of the leading coaching minds in the country.

Although he is generally impressed by the state and skill levels of the current game at the highest level, there is one overriding feature that he feels the sport should address.

“I’m a bit disenchanted with the overuse of the handpass,” says Whelan, who is the subject of tomorrow’s Irish Examiner Big Interview ahead of his former charges’ visit to Kerry.

“When Dublin won it in 2011 we were a very good foot passing team. We did a lot of work on that and I think Dublin still do a lot of work on foot passing; they do a lot of handpassing as well but they execute some very penetrative foot passes. But if you look at the sport overall, there’s an overuse of the handpass.

For more than quarter of a century now there have been repeated calls for a restriction on the number of consecutive handpasses that a team should be allowed, with it even been trialled in a few national league campaigns back in the late 1980s and mid-1990s.

But Whelan would go even further, by abolishing it outright.

“The trouble with [a mere restriction] is it becomes very difficult to operate, especially at underage, having to count the number of consecutive passes. I think they should just get rid of the handpass altogether.

“Most of the top players can accurately kick the ball so I don’t think it would be too long before everyone would adapt to it and you’d have plenty of more foot passes in the game.”

It could be argued that massed defences would then be even harder to break down without the option of playing the ball through the hands but Whelan disagrees.

“A massed defence wants you to use the hand because they have more people in a closed area and all they have to do is interfere with your pass, pick it up and away they go. If transferring the ball through the hands wasn’t an option, they would then have to break by using the foot pass and they would have to have more bodies up the field in the first place.”

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