The Croke Park Central Council will review the ongoing football rules experiment this weekend.
These five rules – which were approved by Coiste Bainistíochta – proposed a restriction in handpasses (to three), the introduction of an attacking mark, the introduction of a sin bin, a new kick-out rule (including zoning), and that all sidelines must be kicked forward.
The Gaelic Players’ Association (GPA) will also present the findings of a survey conducted with players and managers relating to the rules in the coming days.
These experimental rules have been implemented in 43 preseason games so far this season, with some being received more positively than others.
The kick-out, sin bin, and attacking mark rules have been well received, and there has been a mixed response to the sideline ball restrictions.
However, 90% of inter-county players in the GPA survey view the new handpass rule as having a negative effect on the game.
This rule was perhaps the most ambitious of the five, and has been the most poorly received.
In a GPA survey conducted before Christmas, 96% of participants were against the new hand pass rule, and this perception has only fallen by 6% after the trials.
The rule was brought in an attempt to promote a kicking game, and to combat defensive, possession-based football, but it was always going to be difficult to implement in the modern game.
It will also make the lives of referees even more difficult, as the officials will have to be constantly aware of how many consecutive handpasses have been played, and how many steps have been taken.
Below is one of two reasons why this exact iteration of a tweak to the handpass rule in #GAA won’t work – refs at all levels won’t be able to compute it when play runs for multiple phases.
— Tommy Rooney (@TomasORuanaidh) January 15, 2019
“It’s going to be very hard for the ref to control that,” Kerry forward Stephen O’Brien said this week.
“He has to count the steps, they’re going to count whether he’s hopped it twice – they’re trying to look inside if there’s pulling off the ball and he might miss a hand pass.
“It’s going to be a nightmare for refs. Plus, does it promote kicking? You’re going to kick it the man if he’s open and he’s far away from you but you’ll kick to him if he’s close.”
Derry’s video analyst Ben McGuckin released a video showing how difficult it is for officials to get it right.
This 3 pass rule has to go !! The inconsistency of reffing it is shocking. If ‘Top officials’ can’t keep up how will Club level refs cope. pic.twitter.com/e1stlbf9FQ
— Ben McGuckin (@BMG_11) January 14, 2019
Players have struggled to adapt to this change at times, a prime example coming in the O’Byrne Cup semi-final last week when Meath were blown up for exceeding the three pass limit twice in the dying minutes as they chased an equalizer against Dublin.
Down’s Conor McGrady also had a goal ruled out against Donegal due to too many handpasses in the build up earlier this month.
According to the new GPA Survey, 90% of players feel that the three hand-pass rule is having a negative impact.
Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher told RTÉ the rule was “crazy”, and says it won’t help:
“I don’t know how anyone who watches or plays football thinks this is going to help.”
Declan Bonner also revealed that he hasn’t implemented the handpass restrictions in Donegal training because he thinks it will be scrapped before the National League.
Meath forward Graham Reilly has also pointed out a major drawback with the rule, and how it can be exploited.
“It makes no sense because there’s no restriction on how far the kick has to go after three hand-passes,” he said.
“I’ve seen players, particularly if their team is ahead, turn around and kick it backwards two yards. The rule is trying to encourage more quick foot-passing, but it means teams are going backwards.”
As Reilly points out, there is nothing to stop teams from using short defensive kicks in place of handpasses to recycle possession, and there is no guarantee that the rule will lead to more attacking football.
Rather than making it tougher to play defensive football, the rule currently seems to make it easier for packed defences, who know that opposition players will be forced to kick the ball after three handpasses.
Gameplans will need to be modified in light of the rule, and it was always going to take time to successfully implement such a drastic change.
Unsurprisingly, however, managers and players are resistant to change, and the new handpass rule will certainly push most teams out of their comfort zones.
The evidence suggests that players and managers have made up their mind already.
The rule has to go.
Saturday’s meeting will decide whether it is scrapped at the first opportunity, or whether teams will have to get used to it.