GAA Football

We can't make referees' jobs any harder: Jarlath Burns

The chairman of the GAA's standing committee on playing rules Jarlath Burns says referees make around 1,000 decisions per game
Picture by Seamus Loughran

JARLATH BURNS says he would not want the GAA’s standing committee on playing rules to “do anything that will make the referee’s job any harder” when they look at potential rule changes.

Estimating that a Gaelic football referee makes around 1,000 decisions in every game, the former Armagh midfielder believes any potential change to the game must be helpful to match officials.

At present, the committee which he heads is looking at research and trends within the game before deciding if there are any changes they will recommend ahead of next year’s annual congress.

But Burns feels the suggestions of all kickouts going beyond the 45 and that only the four midfielders would be allowed inside that zone to contest it are not feasible.

“Personally, I’m against the idea of anything that will change the flow of the game because I’m scared of unintended consequences," he said.

“You might say it’s simple that, when a ball’s kicked out, it has to go between the two 50s. If you’re a forward and you know the ball has to go out beyond the 50-yard line, there’s no point you being in your position.

“As a result of that, you’d see forwards drifting back right in around the middle of the field. When they get the ball, they’re running at the defence and that’s difficult to deal with.

“Another one is that only the four midfielders are allowed between the two 50s for kickouts. It’s roughly 88 metres by 50 metres, that space. That would absolutely, forever do away with the big midfielder and catching.”

One other such idea that has been widely mooted in a bid to stop teams from putting 15 players inside their own half is keeping a certain number of forwards inside the opposition 45 at all times.

However, Burns feels the policing of such a rule would be almost impossible: “The other one is having two forwards at all times inside the 45, which is like a reverse offside rule," he added. 

"But the last thing you want to do is bring in technical infringements like that, or stuff that will make the referee’s job any harder. The referee already has about 1,000 decisions to make during a match, so we do not want to do anything that makes his job harder.”

Last Sunday’s classic All-Ireland semi-final between Dublin and Kerry, added to the spark Tipperary brought to this year’s Championship, suggest the ship is starting to turn back towards more offensive styles of play. The four teams who reached this year’s semi-final, for instance, were all sides who pushed up on the opposition’s kickouts. 

Burns feels the game is in such a phase of natural evolution that making drastic changes to the rules would potentially have unwanted consequences.

“You have to be so careful not to do something disruptive or which makes the game seem contrived or messes with the natural flow of the game," he said.

“The last four teams in the All-Ireland are naturally attacking teams. The best club team over this era is Crossmaglen, a team that has refused, point-blank, to do anything but attack.

”I just think we could be making changes at a time when there is an era of change occurring anyway. We have to be very careful with what we do and we can’t be overly radical in what we do.

“The game itself is too precious to make a change to it that would mess it up.”

GAA Football

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