Down’s two-time All-Ireland winner Conor Deegan has called for the new football review committee to restrict the hand pass to fist-only transfers.
Speaking at the launch of Newstalk’s live Championship coverage, the Gaelic football analyst said “core skills” of the game have been eroded and it needs to be slowed down. He fears the game is moving towards a form of rugby league and believes reintroducing the experimental rule of 2010 would help.
“I would remove the open hand pass,” said Deegan. “A lot of the football we play is based on boys being able to hit these little pop passes but they aren’t going very far. If you do that at pace with a closed fist it is much more difficult to do and you might slow the game up a fraction.
“The game is getting quicker but not necessarily better.It’s a small point but it’s easy to referee and you won’t have these passes over boys’ heads because to execute that at pace would be much more difficult. It’s a simple solution to something that is a bit of an issue in the game.”
Two years ago, several managers and players reacted negatively to the experimental rule which restricted hand passes to those from the fist and underhand open-handed transfers. It was eventually beaten in Congress but Deegan said: “Our core skills have eroded. Go back to the hybrid game and the Aussies [in 2010] were better able to kick that ball than we were and that’s just wrong.
“A lot of managers find comfort in keeping the ball and not giving it away rather than taking the risk and putting the ball in.
“I think Kieran McGeeney has changed his mindset. He has the big lad [Tomás O’Connor] on the edge of the square and they are banging it in á la Armagh 12 years ago. But you have to have the players to do it. I hate to see a team defend heavily and try to break out slowly.
“If they come out and kick it long and accurately, I can live with that. We might as well go to rugby league otherwise where we retain possession and go forward slowly. If we get to that stage we are in a bad stage.”
Deegan feels things like the open-handed pass allow more athletes and not enough technically gifted players to prosper in Gaelic football. While he feels the pick-up should be done away with, he believes slowing the game down would improve shooting and other skills.
“If you go back to the basics — hand pass it, keep a closed fist, you’ll find it an awful lot more difficult to do what they’re doing today.
“I remember the time we had sidelines off the ground and the change from sidelines off the ground to coming out of the hand — at that stage you might as well have been burning the Bible! It was very difficult to get used to, but it improved the game and sped it up like free-kicks from the hand.
“But eventually there has to come a point where it stops.”
A former full-back, Deegan also feels defenders get “a raw deals at times” when it comes to officiating.
As he explained: “If a forward takes nine steps and puts it into the back of the net nobody says boo. If a defender takes nine steps it’s a free-in. There should be no difference between the two things but in Gaelic football there is.”
Speaking about his own county’s Ulster SFC opener against Fermanagh on June 3, Deegan says manager James McCartan will be in big trouble if they lose in Enniskillen. Even without Martin Clarke and injured Benny Coulter, he feels they have enough to claim a victory.
“I actually think since Martin went, Down have played better football. When Martin was here — and he’s an extremely talented player — so much of the game was slowed up to get the ball to him.
“When he had it, he did an awful lot of great things with it but it allowed teams to filter back and cover all the spaces.
“Down produced good footballers up front; if we give them the ball quickly they’ll do something, if we starve them they can’t.
“James has got Down back playing at a level of football they haven’t been at for a long time. There’s a hardened edge, they’re getting a few players back as well. “Ambrose [Rogers] probably lost three years of his career, Benny’s a big loss but they should have enough to come out of it. If they don’t, James will be shot! Not literally, of course!”
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