GAA Football

'We want to promote attacking principles'

David Hassan, chairman of the Standing Committee for Playing Rules, explains the rationale behind the five proposed rule changes to Gaelic football

Derry's Niall Holly and Fergal Doherty with Caolan Mooney of Down during an Ulster Senior Championship quarter-final match at Celtic Park, Derry. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

Proposal One

To introduce a limit of three consecutive handpasses for the team in possession.

“We have data on handpassing going back eight consecutive seasons, and it’s very clear. We found from looking at the data that if you restrict the number of handpasses to three, that will reduce the number of chains of handpasses by just short of 30 per cent.

“If you had reduced it to two consecutive handpasses, you would have reduced the number of chains by 40 per cent, but we were very mindful of the point you made – the handpass for an attacking team, particularly in a congested area close to goal, that handpasses may be necessary.”


Proposal Two

A sideline kick can only be played in a forward direction, with the exception of one inside the opposition’s 13-metre line.

“On the sideline kick particularly, the evidence on the 2018 season was pretty clear. Sideline kicks in your defensive half, more than half of them were going backwards, and just short of 40 per cent of those in the attacking half were going backwards. As a committee, we thought the basic principles we wanted to establish were of the games going forward rather than back. There may be good reasons why people want to kick the ball back but in the defensive half, where the ball was going back, the view of the committee was that it was worth experimenting with the ball being kicked forward. We had to make provision for someone standing in a corner, so you can kick the ball backwards or any direction from there.”


Proposal Three

The application of the ‘mark’ to be extended to include clean catching inside the 20-metre line. A clean catch by an attacker would result in a free on the 20-metre line, in line with where the mark was taken, and they would have 15 seconds to kick it. Defenders making a mark would be awarded a free from the spot where they make the catch.

“A couple of things were at the forefront of our minds. One was the decrease in the amount of relatively long kicking of the ball in the game at the minute. Maybe for entirely good reasons, because of the way the game has evolved, people weren’t kicking the ball over long distances, 30, 35, 40 metres. We felt if we could encourage that it would be a positive. With the exception of the mark on the kickout, we wanted to see if we could incentivise people catching the ball cleanly in other areas of the field.

“We had some discussion about what time limit was reasonable for the person to make the kick. It shouldn’t be the same as a standard free-kick, it should be part of a fluid movement. The player catches the ball inside the 20-metre line, calls for the mark and moves out to the 20-metre line. We recognised we needed to incentivise the defender as well as the attacker for obvious reasons, because if it was only the attacker then we’d just see the ball routinely broken away legitimately. We wanted to say to defenders who are quick or can intercept a ball that they can also claim a mark, it’s not just about catching the ball above your head.”


Proposal Four

The introduction of a 10-minute sin-bin to replace the existing punishments for both the black card and a second yellow card. It would also see the number of subs allowed return from 6 to 5.

“The sin bin is almost a softer version of the penalty that already applies for the black card. The feedback we were receiving was, particularly in major club games, a person receiving a black card early in a game, even though they were replaced, it amounted to a sending off for them.

“Some people were saying that for stronger teams, the ability for the player to be replaced by somebody equally strong negated the black card. At least now we would have a situation where the player can’t be replaced if they receive a black card.”


Proposal Five

All kickouts must travel beyond the 45’, and only two players from each team will be allowed between the two 45s until the kick is taken. The rest must line up in an ‘orthodox’ formation, ie six backs and six forwards. Players can break the 45’ once the kick is taken and do not have to wait for the ball to be played.

“This has received an airing in different settings, but the theory is that the ball is not in play until it’s played by those players in that middle zone. What we’re saying is that players are able to move into that kickout zone when the kickout takes place. When the goalkeeper kicks the ball out, they can then move in. One of the reasons there may be merit in that is the sort of kickout that allows a half-back to attack the ball and run on to it at pace is not something that should be eradicated from the game. Teams who are good at that shouldn’t be penalised.

“Of course we’re also thinking of the level of high fielding we’d like to see brought back. The mark has done it to some extent and we’d like to see more of that. There are a range of factors we considered. It creates other dynamics in that middle zone. It’s about thinking afresh as to what a team can do in that area. We were conscious of the fact that the mark was already there. I think what we’re likely to see is a range of different approaches to how teams deal with that. It’s only whenever we see it in action over 15 or 20 games that we’ll see how teams are reacting.

“Those basic principles of trying to promote the basic skills of catching and kicking, and the principle of moving forward with the ball and having forwards there who are encouraged to attack, had to be considerations in our work. The theory would be that when the ball’s kicked and say it’s won by the team who kicked it out, they turn around and the player will have six forwards in front of him. If it’s won by the opposition, they similarly have that number in front of them.”

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