One of the easiest things I could do as a GAA person is be negative about Gaelic football.
It’s become the norm over the past decade or so. There are a lot of very positive elements to the GAA which often go unappreciated but would be sorely missed if it were gone tomorrow.
This doesn’t mean we ignore the biggest problems in the game. Let’s face it, the game is not the spectacle it could be or should be. Not enough kick passing, too much hand passing, too many short kick outs and defensive systems leave us with a game that is hard to watch 95% of the time.
Why has the game changed into this? Simple answer really, a team will win more games by kicking less, hand passing more, using short kick outs and having a good defensive plan.
Recent attempts at improving the game include the black card and the mark.
The black card has been proven to be impossible to referee consistently. A version of this is necessary but it needs to be simplified and changed to a sin bin. The black card favours the stronger counties. In last year’s All-Ireland Final James McCarthy was black carded and was replaced by Paddy Andrews who went on to score three points. Not much of a punishment.
The Mark is a nice rule which rewards high fielding but doesn’t necessarily encourage it. If it’s on short it’s still a better ball. It’s also a rule change that doesn’t do anything to fix the major problems in the game.
Two important things to consider when introducing rule changes are will it change the game for the better and is it easy to referee.
The black card has made a small impact on the game for the good but teams are working around it by fouling high up the field but not pulling the players down.
The biggest issue is inconsistency from game to game and referee to referee. Over the last 10 years we’ve had two of the top referees in the country in Laois in Eddie Kinsella and Maurice Deegan. These are two men with very high standards and a good understanding of the game. Yet even they struggle at times to be consistent with the black card rule. So if the best referees can’t do it we can’t expect the rest to.
Everyone has their opinion on this and I don’t for one minute believe I have all the answers but here’s three changes that might bring a few spectators back to O’Moore Park.
- Maximum two or three consecutive hand passes then a player must kick the ball. This will reduce the amount of hand passes and force more kick passing. It discourages a short kick out as it would be more beneficial to press up on kick outs knowing the opposition only have two or three hand passes. It also makes it necessary to have at least three forwards in your half of the field.
- Kick outs must be won outside the 21 (currently the player must be outside the 21 but can receive it inside). This reduces the options for the goalkeeper and again encourages a high press.
- Reduce the numbers from 15 to 14. Teams are fitter now and can cover more ground. This will create more space for attacking football and reduce the effectiveness of defensive systems. It will also help smaller clubs and counties as they won’t need as many top players.
Introducing changes like these are at least trying to attack the problems within the game. They are also easy to referee.
I don’t think there is a perfect solution but at least if we try to address the issues we might improve things.