GAA should have restricted players to just one handpass, reckons Dr Pat O’Neill

Dublin’s 1995 All-Ireland-winning manager Dr Pat O’Neill doesn’t believe the playing rules committee went far enough in proposing a limit of three consecutive handpasses for Gaelic football.

As current boss Jim Gavin claimed the GAA and their rules body did not state a “clear vision” for the game, O’Neill, a former football development committee member, would have preferred if players were restricted to one handpass before the ball had to be kicked.

Admitting he was bored by some of the games he attended in last year’s Championship, he said: “When you make a rule you have to stick to it.

“There was a sense that they needed to have all the stakeholders involved and that the number of people who were advised wasn’t broad enough and then there was a reaction to the decision. The GPA reacted and managers reacted.

“I accept that there is a different attitude to the handpass among players, coaches, and managers nowadays than they’re used to be but I’d be of the older generation that is interested in the primacy of the game, which is football.

“I’d have proposed one handpass as you have one hop rather than the three, which is difficult to implement.

“The one hop has been there for years but the one handpass would ensure kicking would well and truly return to the game. That probably sounds like heresy to the modern manager — and I appreciate that — but it’s what I would have put forward to improve the game.”

Two-time All-Ireland-winning half-back O’Neill suggests Gavin’s remarks were prompted by the GAA’s decision not to introduce the rules on a permanent basis and Central Council backtracking on the handpass proposal last Saturday week.

“I can only surmise it was because they changed their mind on the handpass.

“The modern game wants the handpass and those that are making the rules and are responsible for them being implemented have conceded that.

“Being of the old school, I have to think there’s far too much handpassing. This was an opportunity to restrict it and return to what the game is supposed to be — football. It’s so much like European Handball now.”

As a regular Croke Park matchgoer, O’Neill was alarmed by what he saw last season. “I would go to most of the Championship matches in Croke Park, not just the Dublin games, and I was never as bored as much at a game in my life as I was last summer.

“Some of those games were very pedestrian and they are following a soccer trend when it’s so possession-based.

“A different strategy is needed to entertain the public because over the weekend I saw the TV viewing figures from last year and rugby games are higher than the GAA’s. When you think that Gaelic football and hurling are our national games and reflect the wider community, that’s worrying.

“But you also hear around the place that Gaelic football is not attractive, among my colleagues and out and about — that seems to be the tone.

“Some go as far as saying they won’t go to games but I think they were going a bit overboard.

“It’s not so long ago that we had those classic Dublin-Mayo games and that great Dublin-Kerry game. Those were exhibitions of Gaelic football and obviously Dublin-Mayo didn’t happen last year but it’s a new year, we’re only one round into the league and hopefully the football will improve.”

O’Neill accepts Dublin’s continued success might have turned off some people but he is adamant they are not to blame for football’s ills.

“It’s been a fantastic era for Dublin and they have adapted so well to how the game has changed and thrilled us all. Some of this need for change might be coming from the dominance of Dublin because when one team is dominating, there can sometimes be a lack of interest from the public.

“You get eras when a team is on top like Kerry in the early to mid-1980s but then it opened up again.

“I don’t think the situation Gaelic football finds itself at the moment is Dublin’s fault.

“They have been involved in some of the best decades this decade. We just have to see if the game can improve this year.”

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