Goals are always talked about. Whether they’re brilliantly manufactured ones like Kevin Foley’s in 1991 or controversial scores such as that by Joe Sheridan in 2010. The latter should’ve been a watershed moment for the GAA, but the recently released Football Review Committee (FRC) report seems to have missed a glaring opportunity.
Sheridan’s strike, you see, wasn’t the first dubious score. Nor will it be the last. Seamus Darby’s goal never should have counted in 1982. Benny Coulter’s against Kildare years after that shouldn’t have stood either. So the GAA can’t say there was no reason for a Television Match Official (TMO) to be at least tried. While such expectations would’ve been unrealistic back in ’82, surely by ’10 there could’ve been someone in a room with a record/playback facility. Maybe from our perspective it’s just as well there wasn’t however!
There’s good and bad in these FRC proposals. In August 2011, yours truly put together a trilogy entitled ‘Three steps to save Gaelic Football’. My three ideas centred on the ‘square ball’, the ‘mark’ and the introduction of a TMO. Thankfully, the document put together by Eugene McGee et al has at least proposed giving the mark another run out, while the ‘square ball’ rule has already been altered since. But the boat has been missed regarding a TMO.
The mention of countdown clock/siren system – albeit belated – is welcome. Sadly, though, it appears that’s where the positivity ends. Now, admittedly, the TMO is a bit of a personal hobby horse, but that it wasn’t even mooted is unfathomable. Rugby is always flagged up as the best example of the success of a TMO, and there’s no doubt it has worked there. It’s worked elsewhere, too. After all, Basketball is a five-a-side sport with two referees and therein are video playback and timing systems. Even tennis, which at most has four competitors at any one time, has a method whereby players can challenge an initial decision.
That said, seeing the square ball dealt with and the mark at least considered again has left this corner feeling vindicated but one would openly admit to still being sceptical. Scepticism stemming from the new ideas regarding yellow cards, the failure to do anything about the overuse of the hand pass and, more importantly, the notion of extending club games to 70 minutes duration along with county matches.
Notionally it is indeed noble to seek uniformity on such things, but is it realistic? The line will be trotted out that club sides put in as much effort as their county counterparts nowadays. True, but as a certain county manager imparted in this direction years ago, players think they’re at peak fitness until they make the step up. It’s a completely different level. Thus, is it fair to ask club players to play for an extra ten minutes?
Yellow cards were, it will be acknowledged, an area that needed dealing with. The proposal for doing that, however, is a fudge. It will lead to a situation where – instead of dishing cards out like confetti as an unbearable number of whistle happy referees currently do – there will nearly have to be public beheadings before they go for their pockets. No balance at all. And all because the idea of expelling a player on a yellow from a game is a total nonsense. It was tried before and was a disaster. The simple and logical thing to do would be to revert back to the ‘original’ version of the Sin Bin that should never have done away with. Whereby a transgressor gets ten minutes off the field, can return and, if they muck up again, naturally, they’re gone for the remainder of the game. It has been serially proven to work in other codes, but then, logic and common sense are on an interminably slow releasing drip in some places!
Failure to even address the hand pass represents nothing but a copout. No, I do not subscribe to the theory that it’s totally ruining Gaelic football. The increased abundance of this ‘skill’ however is mitigating against the usage, and even basic learning, of the other, more genuine, fundamentally more important aspects of the game. How much of any training session – be it club or county and (most worryingly) regardless of age group – taken up with dizzying hand pass drills? Methinks a disturbingly large amount! And that’s without even mentioning how players are now being coached to stifle their opponents rather than express their own!
Like the Sin Bin, there was a trial given to a rule limiting that hand pass during what from memory was the 1993/’94 National League. The basis of the experimental regulation was that after two consecutive hand passes the ball had to be kicked. As with the Sin Bin stipulation, it was wrongly discontinued. Implication being that referees had enough to be doing without having to count hand passes. It was a ridiculously flimsy reason to ditch a progressive initiative.
As with the yellow cards, five subs, blood subs, countdown clock and the mark, it’ll eventually come back. In the meantime, we’ll have to study the results of the latest bout of fiddling with the rules. Whether it’ll leave the game better or worse, the jury’s out.