And so we have ‘The Annual Introduction of a New Rule’ from the GAA. Or so it seems. A few years back it was the black card and this year it is the ‘mark.’ Next year they might introduce a ‘no contact’ rule to eliminate all physicality from the game!
Like many others, I have heard the stories about games in 1960s, ‘70s, and 80s and how Gaelic football has changed over the years. Everyone can recall a saga they had on the pitch where they gave an opponent a dig or were involved in a scrape that was forgot about as soon as the final whistle was blown. Physical contact is part of the game but some would suggest that rules and regulation changes over the last few years are making the game soft.
There is an old video that can be found on You Tube of Paidi O’Sé giving Cork’s Dinny Alan a great left hook after a physical exchange. It turned into a comical affair when the on rushing referee went between the two and slipped on his backside.
However nothing was made of the ordeal and the two players shook hands and played on. I can only imagine the controversy such an incident would cause today. Both players would surely be facing lengthy suspensions.
As I’ve said before, I don’t condone needless physicality and violence on the pitch but there are times when you need to put in the hard tackle or give a firm shoulder – you’re not aiming to hurt anyone, you’re aiming to keep the ball and win the game.
With that in mind, what are the motives behind some of the rule changes the GAA have introduced? Could they possibly be trying to rebrand the game for a more global market?
The black card was introduced to stamp out deliberate and intentional fouls but has come in for much criticism from almost all quarters. It is often used in replacement of what should be a yellow or even a red card.
The 2016 All-Ireland final and replay will be best remembered for the black cards that were handed out and of course those that were not! Was Lee Keegan deserving of a black card for his tussle with Diarmuid Connolly? I don’t think so. Keegan was the stand out player on the pitch up to that point in the replay. That black card potentially cost Mayo an All-Ireland title.
Having received a couple of black cards myself (some quite controversial ones I might add!) I don’t believe it has worked at all. The reason for this is inconsistency among referees. What one referee allows, another won’t, making it difficult and very frustrating for players.
Despite this, the GAA have said they will continue with it and will look for more reliability from all referees to ensure fairness. The issues with the black card have been well documented and discussed but it all seems to have fallen on deaf ears within Croke Park.
We need to look at what works well within other sports. The ‘sin bin’ used in ladies football and in rugby would be a good addition to the game. To lose a player for ten minutes can have serious consequences for a team. If the foul happens early in the game, the player who has been punished for it still has time to come back on and redeem himself. This is important in big games and finals when a player has built himself up in preparation only to make a silly tackle for example. He has ten minutes to calm down and reflect before returning to the game.
From this Sunday, a player from either side who catches the ball cleanly from a kick-out, on or past the 45-metre line, will now have the option of calling a ‘mark’ and taking a free-kick, or playing on immediately.
The measure, which was passed at Congress in February with 68 per cent support, aims to reward the skill of high fielding, and is similar to that in the International Rules series, though in this instance it will only apply to catches made from kick-outs. The aim is to limit short kick-outs and encourage a return to traditional Gaelic football values.
The new rule is another one for referees to get up to speed with and no doubt there will be a few receiving criticism for their judgement calls. With consistency paramount to any new rule working, the GAA also launched a new referee’s handbook aimed at “explaining and simplifying” rules for officials and trained all referees on the use of the mark in December.
In the last few years – even since I retired from county football – players are better prepared, fitter, faster and more in sync with a professional athlete. With all the advances in technology and improvements in systems of play it is highly unlikely the great Dublin and Kerry teams of the ‘70s and ’80s would enjoy the same success in the current era!
The goal keeper’s ability to hit a team mate on the chest – often on the move – with the ball from a kick out is now rated as more important than his shot stopping abilities. The traditional kick out – ‘put it out there and let them fight for it!’ - is long gone and with it, the art of fielding. It is great to watch someone pluck the ball out of the sky and hit ground running. It lifts the crowd and the team. To an extent, the mark will help preserve this important skill, but I think it will also add to the stop-start nature of the game.
Teams who lack height around the middle will likely continue to play the ball short and will target the key mid-fielder in opposition and do all in their power to stop him from even competing for kick outs. Would Tyrone have won three All-Irelands if the mark had been enforced back in the noughties?
What they lacked in ball winning ability around the middle, they made up for with their capacity to overturn an opponent once they hit the deck.
In the 2005 final, Darragh O’Sé dominated the aerial exchanges but was hit hard once on the ground, something that will be eliminated with the introduction of the mark.
The reality is that all rules can be bent to suit a situation and managers and teams are probably already working on systems of play and ways that they can use the new rules to their advantage.
One thing is certain though, with regards to rules, we can expect a lot more controversy in the coming year.