GAA Football

The players' thoughts on the new rules proposals

The consultation process for five proposed rule changes to Gaelic football is open for business. In the first of a two-part series, Cahair O'Kane spoke to a host of current inter-county players to get their thoughts…

L-R: Rory Grugan, Mark Sweeney, Pat Cadden, Kevin Johnston, Caolan Mooney

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

Rory Grugan (Armagh): I would be one of the biggest advocates for kick passing as it is my favourite skill in the game. I understand the rationale of not wanting to see continuous laborious hand passing on the outside of a screen defence with zero penetration (ie Slaughtneil vs Magherafelt). However, I feel those situations arise due to their being no restriction on the amount of time you can keep the ball, and no limitation on the amount of men you can put behind the ball in a mass defence. These, coupled with the highly coached nature of the top teams, lead to this problem. I feel that by limiting the hand passes to three, you are encouraging the more cynical teams to defend in such a way that you can essentially put no pressure on the ball out the field, because you know they will have to kick it after a 3rd hand pass, and most likely lose possession if that kick pass goes into an area where the forwards are largely outnumbered. Lastly, I believe hand passing when done well is an underappreciated skill (the Corofin goal in AI club final). A flowing move with men coming off the shoulder at angles, with pace, can be great to watch and I wouldn’t like to see that taken away.

Caolan Mooney (Down): I don’t agree with this, especially playing at half-back now. If you win possession in your own 21’ a kick maybe wouldn’t be possible due to the amount of players in that area, and handpasses are the safest way to get out of the initial traffic, and that can take more than three handpasses. If this rule is implemented then a kick pass that isn’t on has to be used, resulting in the loss of possession.

Pat Cadden (Fermanagh): Don’t think this can work as it only puts added pressure on the referees. They already have a thankless job without adding this to the game. Would also cause more disruption to the flow of the game if the ref has to blow every five minutes for frees if there’s more than three handpasses taken.

Mark Sweeney (Antrim): Will hopefully force teams to develop a long ball transition game, which can only lead to more entertaining matches. Not a fan of the prescriptive nature of forcing a kick pass after three hand passes, as makes the game somewhat one dimensional after the third pass. Might result in slower play as players take more caution on the ball through several solos or kicking passing backwards. Don’t think it will be difficult to police as referee will just have to call the handpass number out loud.

Kevin Johnston (Derry): Think this is ridiculous – the worst of the rules. Will just lead to short kick passes replacing the fist pass, which will slow the play up. When used properly hand pass is very effective and good to watch with off the shoulder running, one-twos etc. Also another thing for referees to deal with!


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

Kevin Johnston: Don't think this is a particularly good idea but probably worth a try. The reason a sideline ball is often kicked backwards is because there is no space due to crowded defences. So if there is any delay in taking the sideline this would encourage opposition team to crowd the area within 40 or 50m ahead of the ball making space even more limited. Might encourage earlier long ball.

Rory Grugan: This idea, when coupled with the offensive mark, could be effective in terms of encouraging teams to attack more willingly. When taken in isolation, its motivations are hard to understand. In terms of how the top teams are coached nowadays, there is an emphasis put on retaining possession, which is why you see teams taking a high percentage option either sideward or backwards, rather than kicking to a 50-50 contest further up the field. I understand that these rules are being introduced to improve the game as a spectacle, but even as a neutral watching a game, I don’t see anything untoward about kicking a set piece backwards to retain possession and begin your attack. It reeks of yearning for bygone days when everything was kicked as long and as far down the field as possible. In the absolute worst case scenario, any team defending a sideline between their 45m and 13m line will pull as many men back into defence as possible, knowing that the pass must go forward, which would become farcical.

Caolan Mooney: A sideline is there for teams to retain possession. Forcing a team to kick forward with players marked would mean there’s more of a risk of losing the ball. If there’s a kick to go forward most players would use it, but if there is a certain pass sideways or backways it’s going to be used as retention of the ball is most important.

Pat Cadden: I don’t think it will speed up the game any better as if players are marked and the ball can’t go forward, the player will only stall the kick to try and make sure of possession

Mark Sweeney: Makes the game one dimensional and penalises the team with the ball as the opposition only have to defend 90 degrees as opposed to 180. Appreciate that the intention is to stop teams killing the game when winning by passing backwards to a free man, but I would suggest the onus should be on the opposition to go full press to force an uncertain kick.


3. 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.

Mark Sweeney: Top proposal. Don’t see any downside to this rule. Encourage kicking from distance and fielding inside. Will definitely see the scenario in a tight game whereby a player takes a mark and feigns injury so that a more accurate player who is closest to him is nominated to take the score.

Kevin Johnston: I like this idea. If a forward is able to win a ball inside the 21’ nowadays he is often surrounded and gets bottled up anyway. So this would reward the forward and put the defender under more pressure. Also hopefully encourage more kick-passing to full-forward line.

Rory Grugan: Along with the sin bin, this is my favourite proposal. It could completely change how we coach the kick pass, as currently it is more advantageous to play a bouncing ball into space for an inside forward. It will encourage players to play more with their head up, and to be more willing to take risks with their kick passing. It will also reward ball winning forwards who may have struggled with the nature of the game for the last few games. The only worry I have with it is how a mark is called, and how clear it is that the player has decided to play on or stop and take his mark. Comparing it with the relative confusion around this area of the current kickout mark, it could lead to controversy in a big match. But on the whole, I think it could be a great addition to the game.

Caolan Mooney: Would agree here, it would encourage long balls in to the goalmouth and players contesting a high ball, when the ball is on obviously.

Pat Cadden: This rule might be worth a try as it not only will reward the forward to win primary possession it will also make teams kick the ball inside if the reward will be an easy scoring opportunity


4. 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.

Pat Cadden: Again putting more workload on the referees but if the repercussion is more extreme to your team by losing the player, some sort of sin bin might be worth a try as a way to prevent persistent fouling and make tackling better.

Mark Sweeney: Black card as it stands is too penal for the majority of fouls and scenarios. To date it has had mixed results, a definite reduction in cynical play but this has been over shadowed by many controversial applications. A sin bin would be a more appropriate punishment as the opposition should be able to maximise the extra man. Will also reduce the commentary after games surrounding black cards of key players which are effectively a sending off in the player’s eyes. Teams will develop power plays when they receive black cards to shut down for 10 minutes and limit the damage, which might not be the best spectacle. Three yellows required to be sent off will see a rise in the physicality of the game.

Kevin Johnston: I think the 10-minute sin bin is a better punishment for black card than having to go off and replaced. However I think yellow and red cards should stay as they are. Three yellows before getting sent off is a bit of a joke. Maybe that's what Graham Poll was trialling at the World Cup.

Rory Grugan: In terms of the black card, I think this is a much greater deterrent to cynical play than the current rules. With the conditioning and high level of coaching among teams currently, having a numerical advantage for 10 minutes at a crucial stage could be the winning of the game. As for needing three yellows before being sent off, it seems very lenient and maybe not punitive enough for what could be extremely persistent fouling. I suppose this isn’t helped by the open interpretation of what consists of a good tackle, and the difference between two referees of what constitutes a yellow card offence.

Caolan Mooney: Suppose it wouldn’t be the worst thing. It would encourage players tackling to be smarter as you wouldn’t want your team a man down for 10 minutes.


5. 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.

Caolan Mooney: Leave the kickouts as they are. The mark is enough.

Rory Grugan: For me, this rule proposal doesn’t seem well thought out. Firstly, only having four players in such a large area of the pitch doesn’t make sense and won’t necessarily lead to more aerial contests. A total of eight would make more sense. Secondly, there has been some great innovation in recent years on how to press the opposition’s kickouts, and this has led to more scoring opportunities and added to the spectacle in my opinion. This zonal press (like Kerry’s vs Dublin in 2016) will no longer be possible. Lastly, I believe this rule will be very hard to police, especially at club level where the linesmen aren’t neutral and referees aren’t able to see at exactly what moment a player has broken outside the 45m line.

Pat Cadden: This might work with regards to making all kickouts go long. Though the player count within the two 45s and judging when a player is allowed to enter the midfield area to provide support would be too hard to manage.

Mark Sweeney: Don’t see anything wrong with the current kickout structure. It’s up to teams to develop kickout press strategies to force the opposition to go long and make it 50-50. Teams will have a variety of talent at hand, in particular at club level and it is up to the management to develop a plan that best suits that teams strengths. Punishing teams who are not blessed with high fielders, the mark is already promoting this skill and rewarding teams who are flush in this area.

Kevin Johnston: Don't know how this would work. Good idea on paper maybe but how would this be implemented? Surely it would take up a lot of time making sure everyone is back in position. And space between two 45s can be massive on some pitches for four players. Again hard for referees.

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