Sport

Enda McGinley: How soon before the GAA make possession more than nine-tenths of the law?

Dublin realised after their defeat to Donegal in 2014 that you cannot go pushing up and attacking full throttle into a massed defence and instead started to put the emphasis on patient retention of possession

THE most dramatic rule changes to the game in at least 30 or 40 years have cleared their first hurdle largely unscathed.

When the new proposals were put out several weeks ago, they were to go through a consultation phase, with input invited from managers, players, referees and officials during October.

That process is now complete, and the rules have come through with only minor cosmetic surgery.

They still add up to a massive change to the game and this, I suppose, is the crux of it.

Since the start of the decade, the game has changed massively into one of possession and patience.

Unfortunately, these same two words have led to not quite the elimination, but certainly the reduction, of intensity,

man-against-man duels and flair in the game.

These three components are so essential to what constitutes a Championship game that the large amounts of slow lateral passing, completely pressure-free possession and avoidance of contact that have replaced them have led to the desire for change and in turn to these rule proposals.

The issue is that some, I believe a small minority, feel there is nothing wrong with the current game.

The majority, however, probably do feel it's not the game they wish it to be.

There appears two primary views on this: those that feel possession football is the issue and others who believe it is the massed defence.

I am firmly in the massed defence school of thought but the rule-makers are obviously in the possession camp.

Four of the rules relate directly to actual play. All four amazingly make defensive formations more effective. This beggars belief.

I can understand the aims of the rule-makers to kill off this obsession with possession that has infiltrated football.

The rules committee have spoken publicly about their admiration for hurling and feel a key difference in the entertainment value is the amount of contested possessions.

Hurling does indeed have much greater amounts of long passing and contested possession but there are many things that make hurling special; the contested possession element is but one of these.

Hurling is completely different from football. The only similarities are the pitch, the scoring system and the number of players.

There is no point playing a massed defensive system in a game where players can hit points from their own half.

Ironically, the top hurling teams now emphasise maintaining possession more so than in previous eras, a point that was presumably missed by our rule-makers.

The change to an emphasis on possession in the game has come about because of zonal defensive formations. Facing a blanket defence, teams initially kept attacking into them only to end up being roundly beaten.

Led by Dublin, following Donegal's win over them in 2014, teams realised you cannot go pushing up and attacking full throttle into a massed defence and instead put the emphasis on patient retention of possession through the slow lateral hand-passing and backwards passing we have become wearily accustomed to.

Remember, though, this was the system teams developed to beat the blanket defence.

Targeting these tactics, as the rule changes do, will surely then make the blanket defence even more effective.

The slight modifications to the original proposals have not changed these fundamental issues.

The advanced mark has been changed to now be within the 45-metre line rather than the 20 as originally suggested.

This makes longer forward kick-passing attractive but a free-kick competition is not what I want to see great forward play becoming.

Going back to my issue with massed defences, this rule is hardly likely to make teams push higher up the pitch when the opposition are getting rewarded more for kicking it in.

Even if it works, it would lead to a loss of the best type of forward play, replaced by an Australian Rules catch, stop and free-kick scenario.

I hope the traditionalists think about that for a second.

The kick-out rule has also been tweaked. They have wisely dropped the requirement that only two players from each team would be allowed between the two 45-metre lines, which would have caused a massive delay in games, waiting for players getting back to position.

They have, however, kept the requirement that the ball travel beyond the 45-metre line.

Aside from the fact that the rule-makers must never have played at Garvaghey on a windy day where such a rule could render a game unplayable, the rule as suggested will not free up the game one bit.

There would be no point in a team not dropping back on kick-outs.

The high press, which was a tactic increasingly in vogue where teams left their defensive formation and pushed up, would be completely redundant.

Instead, the full-forward lines will drop out onto the 45-metre line with everyone else further back.

Again, a rule designed to stop short kick-outs and encourage the older traditional catch-and-kick game will lead to more defensive positioning of teams.

In a simplistic manner, these rules appear designed to either turn football into hurling or turn it back 40-50 years to the catch-and-kick games.

Similar opinions could be heard in the margins of our game even during the '90s and Noughties, when, with a degree of retrospection, the game was in rude health.

Like Brexit and Trump, a few modern issues can suddenly make people listen to views that once seemed hardline and out of touch.

The current proposals, in the hands of the modern coaches and endless hours of preparation that teams put in, will not result in the simplistic changes to style of play the rule-makers are hoping for.

While I suggested changes were needed earlier in the year, the current proposals – in going after possession rather than defensive positioning – do not get to the root cause and may hinder some of the best aspects of our game.

Now, I have not met anyone closely involved with coaching current teams or players who think these changes will help the game so initially I imagined the rules wouldn't stand a chance of getting through. Then I remembered that none of these people will be at Congress.

My fear is the rule changes speak loudest to the traditionalists, those that have yearned for the return of the old game.

The victories of Brexit and Trump came down to who turned out to vote.

Considering the general make-up of the Congress population and vote weighting, I believe these changes will get the green light after all.

Maybe it is the rule-makers that have this right, but I for one would miss the intricacy of modern kick-outs with the ball hoofed out to a crowd of men.

And what about the flowing, attacking moves which will be killed by the fella stopping to take a mark or someone having to kick it just because a rule-maker says so and so ignore the man flying off his shoulder through on goal?

They say possession is nine-tenths of the law but, true to form, the GAA might well just be about to go after the remaining tenth.

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