A fella said during the summer as one dour championship football match followed another that the whole kick had been taken out of the game of Gaelic. He was speaking in general terms, but maybe in ways he was being specific.
There’s been less use of the boot in recent times, and as a consequence other skills, in particular high fielding, are not as much in use. It’s simplifying it to say high fielding, for so long a basic need in helping a footballer to overcome other shortcomings, has been replaced by handpassing, but it’s less prevalent and not as dependent upon.
A restriction on the number of consecutive handpasses a team can use is one of the five proposals Croke Park’s Standing Committee of Playing Rules (SCPR) has come up with. The others relate to a sideline-kick, an extension of the ‘mark’, a sin-bin and the kick-out. They’re all going to get a trial run in the coming months, and if any, or all, of them are approved, they’ll come on to the statute book at the beginning of 2020.
The SCPR say they have data on the handpass going back eight consecutive years. They feel that if there’s a restriction on the number of handpasses to three it will reduce the number of chains of handpasses to just short of 30%.
Groans went up from the crowd at some of this summer’s biggest Croke Park games when a team – invariably the one in front, and by the proverbial Irish mile – began to handpass the ball, not from one end of the field to the other, but from side to side.
But you don’t have to be in Croker to see this sort of thing – it’s happening in club matches, and is not pretty to look at.
Okay, so the introduction of a new rule is not going to completely eliminate the sort of stuff we are now seeing; it would be no less pleasing to the eye to have sets of three handpasses being interspersed by the ball being kicked, maybe tapped, just to stay within the rules. But what we’re talking about here is a team so much in control of a game there’s no need to look forward.
Picture a defence coming under intense pressure. In today’s game it can eliminate danger with a series of handpasses, one maybe going back to the goalkeeper. But having at some time to put in a kick, we could, dare we say, have a return to the call to ‘give her distance’. And that being the case is there not a chance that another great skill of former days could find a way back in favour? The block is such a rarity nowadays that if one goes in it is commented upon for days after.
Inside Track might take a look at the other proposals in the weeks ahead.