JOHN FOGARTY: New rules highlight football’s identity crisis

Eighteen years ago, Tyrone proposed and succeeded in having a motion passed that there would be a 10-year moratorium on changes to the playing rules of Gaelic football.

Had it not have been for GPA founder Donal O’Neill gatecrashing Congress in Galway, their determination to retain the status quo would have been the headline act of that year’s gathering.

Along with Cork, Tyrone are the conservative wing of the GAA but there was plenty reason for their approach. With some significant changes to the game over the previous decade and the goalposts regularly moving in the metaphorical sense, somebody was going to shout stop.

Eventually though, the rule was changed back and clubs could again recommend changes every five years.

As an addendum in Christy Cooney’s time as GAA president, there was the establishment of a standing playing rules committee as there is in Australian Rules with the AFL rules/laws of the game committee.

If you didn’t know better, the GAA’s version have been taking a leaf out of their book. The playing rules committee’s attempt here to insist on starting positions for the kick-out reads uncanningly like the Australian group’s call for starting positions at centre bounces and stoppages. In both cases, these are bids to cut out on congestion.

The idea Down Under has been damned by several AFL coaches as have other possible changes such as allowing players to run longer without bouncing the ball and an elongated goal square, ie where the ball can be kicked from to recommence the play after a behind (wide).

When the season is up and running, inter-county managers can be expected to do the same while Rory Gallagher and Malachy O’Rourke have already responded coolly to the proposals. That is in spite of the committee stressing their plans are open for debate and amendment.

Yet history shows that most of the proposals will either be altered or not make the trial period of the 2019 Allianz League never mind come in on a permanent basis from the 2020 Championship.

In late 2004, it was proposed by the task force charged with experimental rules that the pick-up off the ground without using the foot would come into operation for the following year’s league. It was trialled but much to the disappointment of Mick O’Dwyer, who sat on that committee, it wasn’t passed into rule.

That same body were also made eat some humble pie when the negative reaction to sending off players on yellow cards was so fierce then GAA president Seán Kelly had to make an intervention and introduce a sin bin for those players. The idea was eventually voted down.

There was another late alteration in 2014 as the black card emerged from nowhere after the Football Review Committee’s similar motion subbing players who were yellow carded was regarded as too severe.

After consultations with the rules advisory committee, five cynical fouls were considered black card offences.

The last time such an array of proposed experimental rules was brought forward came nine years ago when there were nine such recommendations.

From a definitive striking action in the handpass to easing the square ball rule to changing the penalty spot, many of them succeeded.

In tandem with the 20m kick-out rule, the mark has been a positive addition to Gaelic football. Paul Earley, the former International Rules manager and Melbourne player, was correct last week in saying there is a need for more aerial contests in the game. However, by extending the mark to the inside line there is the risk of the game moving closer to Australian Rules. Might the 45m kick-out be enough to encourage more high fielding?

Someday soon, as he has done on all those previous occasions there have been rule changes put forward, Mickey Harte will make a strong argument against a few if not all of the adjustments. However, it was his nephew Peter who made the most valid point speaking back in August: “At the end of the day, we might change the game from all recognition if we keep tweaking at what we are doing.”

That feeling is not just held in the Tyrone camp but others like Dublin and Kerry too. Gaelic football is undoubtedly in need of review - nobody can deny that - yet in the urgency to make the game easier on the eye its identity can’t be lost.

Plus ça change (part one)

RTÉ are doing their best to sell Thursday’s 2019 provincial championship draw but it’s close to a hopeless cause. Not just because it’s seven months ahead of any action but given the amount of information that is known already.

Fresh from dethroning Cuala in Dublin with his Kilmacud Crokes side, Anthony Daly of this parish and Henry Shefflin will be on the programme discussing a Munster championship the arrangement and participants of which are already in the public sphere. The five Leinster counties are also confirmed too so what’s new, pussycat?

There’s plenty we already know about the football competitions too. As they reached this year’s Munster final Cork and Kerry are in separate semi-finals and as it is their turn to do so Mayo will be commencing their summer in New York and Galway in London. As Leinster semi-finalists this year, Dublin, Carlow, Laois and Longford receive byes to the quarter-finals next May.

The true attraction is the openness of the Ulster SFC where anything can happen although that will change from next season as the teams drawn in the preliminary round this time around can’t find themselves there again in 2020.

Should next season produce the same provincial champions as this past summer, Kerry will be in a Super 8 group involving Dublin or Donegal and not Galway again although such matters aren’t usually discussed at these events.

Along with their best football pundits Tomás Ó Sé and Ciarán Whelan, RTÉ have brought together nine footballers and managers to chat about events but the chances are their thoughts on the proposed experimental rules will make for better quotes than a competition so far away and yet so very predictable.

Plus ça change (part two)

County final-time began in earnest this past weekend and it will continue right through the month until Dublin stage their senior football decider on the Monday of the Bank Holiday weekend, as they did last year.

September may have all but been given over to the clubs, but because the same deadlines for provincial championship starts remain the same, there has been little change in the time counties are taking to complete their competitions.

At least Waterford this year will be able to finish their SFC in time to have representation in Munster but, by and large, the completion dates for most counties are similar to those of last year. Cork finish their SHC a week earlier this year than 2017 and Waterford are two weeks ahead but Limerick will be later, as will Tipperary.

Kerry’s hurling final was played off on August 26 in contrast to October 8 last year. That early run-off won’t have much benefit for Lixnaw when they face Cashel King Cormacs in their Munster quarter-final on October 28.

At least there doesn’t appear to be any delays avoiding the embarrassment of counties’ champions not going on for provincial glory but you would need a microscope to identify where exactly the calendar changes have aided clubs.

April was, by and large, ignored as a genuine month for clubs. Just ask Liam Sheedy: “The reality is 22 of the 32 counties totally ignored the blueprint and there was no consequences for them. There is no point in us being one of the 10 that say, ‘Yes, we’ll play by the rules, while others run meaningless club games where, ultimately, their championship players aren’t being played anyway.’”

Sheedy wears a different hat now but when a former member of the GAA’s management committee is talking in such a way, eyebrows should be raised.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie

 

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