McGee’s report grabs football by scruff of its neck

The GAA has often been mocked for the snail’s pace with which it embraces change but the recommendations released yesterday to improve Gaelic football represent an exercise in revolution by committee.

Eugene McGee, who has chaired the eight-member Football Review Committee (FRC) for the past eight months, joked that this was no coup d’etat and director general Paraic Duffy was safe in his seat in HQ and there were no bombshells primed in the 12-page release.

“We just want to spell out the little small things that, if they were done, would alleviate a lot of problems that annoy the rank and file GAA person, whether that be a spectator or official,” McGee explained.

“A lot of these things that we are promoting, they are not Einstein stuff.”

Yet, add it all up and the 18 proposals, which were compiled after consultations or correspondence with almost 4,000 people and a study of 61 games at all levels, represent a blueprint for a brave new world. The question now is how many of the proposals will survive the minefield that is Congress next April.

Of the 18 suggestions, 10 require the thumbs up from the rank and file’s representatives when they congregate in Derry next spring. Four of the more significant playing rule alterations — the mark, the pick-up, the yellow card changes and the addition of 10 extra minutes on the duration of club games — would not be introduced until 2014, if accepted.

However, other seminal sweeps that could be in force next summer include the advantage rule, the score with the open hand, the introduction of a time clock and the stipulation that offences which carry a 13m sanction would in future bring with it 30m. None of the 18 are being promoted for a trial period. Once they are in, they will be in for good.

That is extraordinary change in any language. If even half of the 10 individual motions to appear at Congress are passed it will have an enormous impact on the game of football and, as with all tweaks in all codes, it will be impossible to ascertain what all the consequences of those changes will ultimately be. McGee admitted as much yesterday.

“We tried to be conscious of, if we change something, what are the reverberations on other aspects of the game? Sometimes, motions have gone through the club with good intentions and got to Congress but nobody had gone through the reverberations of, what if this rule goes through, how will it effect A, B, C and D, and F and G? We have tried to make sure that when we make one change, that we don’t upset another pattern.”

Association president Liam O’Neill labelled the report as one of the most extensive trawls of any sport ever undertaken. Duffy termed it as a “template for the future”. McGee himself was at pains to stress the collective effort involved and that it was no wish list dreamt up by men in an ivory tower.

This, he added, was the voice of the common man and woman — and what they said made for interesting reading. Three-quarters of those surveyed described senior football at inter-county level as good or very good but there was a clear distaste for the prevalence of cynical behaviour and a culture of disrespect for match officials.

As can be seen in the accompanying sidebar, the report has shone its light on all aspects of the game.

There are those who claim there is nothing wrong with Gaelic football in its current guise but most will find little reason to quibble with the spirit behind the enterprise. However, McGee accepted the final verdict on its findings will be far from unanimous.

He accepted the decision not to restrict the hand pass, for instance, will have met with widespread disappointment while stressing the belief that the introduction of other measures should negate the need for such a path in the first place.

McGee’s hope is that the amount of yellow cards handed out per game will decrease from a current average of 6.6 to three or maybe even two and that the number of fouls will drop by 10%. By the end of 2014, he hopes to see concrete evidence of improvements.

Much of what was proposed will be impossible to track on graphs but the publication of a layperson’s rule book, the suggestion that referees introduce themselves to teams in their dressing rooms before matches and the promotion of and emphasis on correct tackling skills are all to be welcomed, too.


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