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10 December 2009 Edition

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More than a game BY MATT TREACY

Changing the rules

THIS WEEK saw yet another attempt by the GAA to revamp football and hurling by introducing a series of experimental rule changes that will be tested after Christmas before being voted on at Congress. Some of the football ones are interesting.
The hand pass, which was such a prominent feature of the game in the 1970s and early 1980s, is effectively being reintroduced, probably to get around the current difficulty many referees seem to have applying the rule as it stands. A more controversial change is the introduction of a ‘mark’ similar to Aussie rules where a player catching the ball between the two 45-metre lines will now be allowed a free-kick. While devotees of high fielding may welcome this, I can see it contributing mainly to further delays and time wasting.
From basketball comes what sounds like dribbling, whereby a player can bounce the ball as many times as he likes without taking it back into his hand. That could be good for some comic relief and ought not be attempted approaching certain individuals.
The square rule is gone except from placed kicks, which some have claimed will mean that large, hulking full-forwards will encamp on top of the goalkeeper. Perhaps, and no doubt there are managers already eyeing 6-foot 10-inch lads who couldn’t kick snow off a rope with a view to exploiting this one.
Goalkeepers will also be less than pleased by the moving of penalties two metres closer to the goal. Had that been in place in the 1990s, Dublin would possibly have won four All-Irelands in a row. Charlie Redmond, Keith Barr and Paul Bealin will be staring into their Bovril wondering what might have been.
Other changes include moving the kick out to the 13-metre line, referees having to signal why they are playing advantage, a redefinition of the shoulder tackle, and that added time has to end only when the ball crosses a line, something similar to rugby. I have already spotted a flaw there as what happens if time is up and the winning team puts the ball out for a sideline or a 45? Surely allowing that to happen is asking for trouble but perhaps I am misinterpreting the proposal.

THERE are many who would argue that hurling does not require radical change and in comparison to football the proposals are mainly minor tweaks.
These include throwing the ball in no closer than 13 metres from the goal-line, a clarification of the hand-pass rule, altering the rule applying to players moving before a penalty is struck, the introduction of a throw-in 20 metres out when the goalkeeper steps outside the small square for the puck out, and the penalising of players who step outside the sideline.
As I said, all pretty minor and ones that, unlike football, will mean little change, I suspect.
Without sounding like a dreadful hurling snob, I actually think that there is very little that requires doing in regards to the rules governing the game.
There has been much debate over the alleged “playing on the edge” of Kilkenny but in fact, similar to what happened in the 1990s with the likes of Clare and Wexford, it is more a case of their having upped the physicality and fitness and pace of the game. And as happened then, other counties with serious ambitions have adopted the same template. This was apparent from the Cats’ games against Galway, Dublin, Waterford and Tipperary, where their opponents attempted to harry and close down the Kilkenny players which, as we saw, clearly narrowed what had seemed the yawning abyss between Cody’s side and everyone else in 2008. Whichever team can intensify that approach in 2010 will come close to beating them.

I ALSO think they might have taken a different course with regards to football.
One of the main current problems and one that is also creeping more and more into club games is diving to have an opposing player sent off. Where that is detected by the referee on the day (which is not always possible given the Thespian talents of certain chaps) then the diver ought to be sent off. If it is not detected at the time but is clearly apparent from the filmed evidence, then the punishment should be imposed afterwards, along with the corresponding suspension.
Another major bugbear is time wasting and some of the changes, such as the mark, could actually increase the amount of stoppages. In fact, it is certain to.
What might have been tried is to bring in the same clocking system that is in place in the women’s game and in rugby where the time stops, independently of the referee, for injuries, bookings and so on. The only danger here would be that some games starting at 3 or 4 o’clock might not end until the early hours of the following day.
It will be interesting then to see what impact the changes have when they are tried out in the McKenna, McGrath and O’Byrne Cups, the Connacht FBD League and the National League itself. That at least will give people a chance to observe them in operation and to make a considered decision at Congress when it is held in April in Newcastle, County Down. 

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