Enda McGinley: It's important not to be too negative over rule change proposals

The proposals unveiled this week by the Standing Committee on Playing Rules geared towards improving Gaelic football as a spectacle offers a welcome conversation – but what has been outlined may not provide a viable solution. Road-testing the rule changes during a single Allianz League is not ideal either

YOU gotta love us GAA folk. Some nice fella comes along and offers all clubs a few grand of extra money out of the feelgood vibes he got from his county winning an All-Ireland and, within a few days, there is more coverage regarding issues with it than any sense of appreciation.

So while many of us bemoan the quality of the game at present there is still guaranteed to be plenty of critique surrounding the new rule change proposals.

Firstly, it must be recognised that those involved in drawing up these rules are as passionate, probably moreso, about our association and games than any of us are.

They will have invested serious man hours deliberating potential rule changes and appear to have sought a very wide range of opinions in informing those same discussions.

The proposed rule changes therefore must be given a great degree of respect and not just pulled apart as if they are daft suggestions.

We need to invest as much time thinking why they CAN work rather than simply pointing at the potential flaws.

As a starting point the committee has asked that these rule changes be considered as a whole package rather than isolated changes and be implemented as such. Combining the three direct rules on playing – the limited hand-passing, the long kick-outs and the forward mark, the proposers are seemingly attempting to recreate the days of long kicks to big midfielders, long kicked clearances and long balls being won in the full-forward line by the tall men in there. This is about as old school a version of our game as I can imagine.

Maybe the proposers enjoyed the hurling Championship and are embarking upon a mission to make football more like the small ball game.

Either way, they certainly demonstrate a drastic and brave move towards shaking things up.

Applying all rules together is a non-runner in my book if it is going to get one National League campaign as a road test.

Teams now talk about development of systems over two- and three-year cycles and that’s in playing by the current rules.

There is no way in hell that a true reflection of these rule changes will be seen in one National League campaign when teams are only in their infancy regarding their coaching and video analysis of both themselves and opponents.

These teams can’t be fooling about with playing styles when focusing on promotion and relegation in the ultra-competitive National Leagues or when looking further afield to the Championship, albeit where the new rules would not apply. Imagine wasting your seven National League games working with a new style of kick-out knowing that come Championship you’ll be playing with different rules.

Additionally, any rule change will have unforeseen knock-on effects. Trying to assess five at one time and when teams are only getting used to them means no proper conclusions will be able to be drawn. The exercise is likely to be a waste, neither proving that the rules will or won’t work.

Fundamentally, the issue for me is that the game at present is played into a defensive crowd which has proven very effective.

Those that say that it won’t win anything maybe have missed the fact that every team in the country do it to a degree.

Yes, the winners are those that are best able to balance the attacking side of game, but all teams are adroit at getting huge numbers back defensively.

This slows attacking teams up and forces the multiple slow phases of lateral and non-contact passages of play which, for many, are the greatest misgivings with the modern game.

None of the rule changes do anything to change this. In fact, on initial analysis, some may actually increase the importance or effectiveness of a crowded defence.

I understand the issues with too much fist-passing or trying to make attacking with longer passes more rewarding, but defensive formations did not come about by coaches seeking to attack better. They have come about from coaches looking towards stopping the opposition.

Any rule changes which limit the options of the team in possession consequently increases the effectiveness of the blanket defence.

Furthermore, any potential advantages for attacking teams from the new rules will inevitably be countered by any coach worth his or her salt.

Take the inside mark and free-kick. Any player knows that it is practically a criminal offence to give a cheap free away inside.

The ‘forward mark’ may encourage a team to look for a ball inside, but is that trying to suggest that current teams aren’t looking for that same pass?

Okay, on some occasions the pass inside is executed and the man has to come out round due to numbers, a scenario avoided in a mark and free-kick situation. But for me, more often than not, the pass is not hit because, with sweepers and numbers back, the pass is not on.

With the penalty increased for teams giving away such a mark, I would fully expect teams to ensure such events do not occur. Double sweepers would likely become the norm.

The limitation of fist-passing has been the call from some quarters for decades now.

Yet, think of all the great football we seen in the 1990s or Noughties? Was anyone counting fist-passing then? The number of fist passes has zero bearing on the quality of the football. The players will always use the best possible pass that is on.

In the era of the crowded defence, maintaining possession with fist passes is common. Removing this tool makes the defensive screen even more effective by forcing kick passes.

Same goes for the forward side-line pass. Again, for me, the rules fail to address the primary issue – the sheer numbers we have in certain parts of the pitch. Treating the symptoms is not the same as treating the disease.

This may be what the committee are at with intentions to limit the numbers in midfield and force long kick-outs.

The common theme seems to be that, at the restarts, teams are spread out and if possession is won cleanly, the ‘blankets’ cannot get back in place and free flowing football will result. Here, the sweepers will not be in place and the long ball into the full-forward line should be on.

The kick-out rule, combined with the other rules, may well create passages of play which hark back to the direct catch and kick game that is obviously been sought.

I’m not convinced that is our game at its best. In fact, I’m sure it’s not.

Maybe the first conversation needed to be what game are we looking to achieve?

There again, trying to get consensus on that starting point alone would prove nigh on impossible, so it’s hard to blame anyone for at least getting something onto the table to consider.

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