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Experimental rules are disrespectful - Pete McGrath - The Irish News
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GAA Football

Experimental rules are disrespectful - Pete McGrath

Pete McGrath will manage Ulster in this weekend's Railway Cup  

EXPERIMENTAL rules including the 'mark', the 'solo pass free kick' and extra subs are likely to be used for this weekend's Railway Cup football matches, despite Ulster boss Pete McGrath suggesting the practice shows some "disrespect" to the competition.

McGrath confirmed to The Irish News that Ulster has slightly reluctantly said 'Yes' to the rules trial, partly on the understanding that Connacht and Munster had both already acquiesced to the request by Monday morning.

"Rather than Ulster says no," said McGrath with a rueful laugh, "we're happy enough [to try out these rules]; we'll be speaking to our players about it on Thursday night.

"But I still think they've rushed it, they haven't covered themselves in glory, but if they want to look at these rules and the other provinces are agreed - and we know that two already are - we won't stand in the way of seeing how these rules might pan out."

The proposal for this rules experiment arose from the Central Council meeting on November 13, with the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) asked by the Standing Committee on Playing Rules to consider such a trial. However, McGrath's assistant manager Tony Scullion only received an email about them last Friday, November 27.

Although the GAA did subsequently make clear that the trial would require 'buy in' from the provinces and their management and players, McGrath remains somewhat unhappy about the situation, saying: "It is a further complication, although the other provinces are in the exact same position

"It's far from ideal for fellas to find out about changes to the structure of a competitive game with such short notice. Maybe there's just a hint of disrespect for the competition that they tend to fire these things in.

"You'd have thought that experimenting with rules could have been done in [next year's pre-season competitions] the McKenna Cup, O'Byrne Cup, and so on. Those would involve all county players, rather than just a sample of county players over one or two matches each."

The four management teams and playing panels surely would have no problem agreeing to the number of substitutes allowed being increased to nine. On that, McGrath commented: "It's getting us closer and closer to 'inter-change' - I think the GAA is heading in that direction, to tell you the truth."

The 'mark' and the 'solo pass' should both enhance the chances of more free-flowing football on heavy December pitches, accepts McGrath.

"They aren't ground-breaking - although I suppose the 'solo' free kick could change the complexion of the game - and the 'mark' should lend itself to more high fielding, which I'm in favour of," he added.

The 'mark' concept is well enough known, this version allowing a player who takes a clean catch from a kick out, as long as it reaches at least the 45m line, the options of playing on or taking a free-kick himself.

The 'solo pass' option follows from a player being awarded a free-kick after a foul. He or a team-mate can take that free as normal or else take a 'solo pass' free-kick himself, which entails him toe-tapping the ball and then enjoying a 5m exclusion zone in which he cannot be challenged by an opponent. The penalty for deliberate or  avoidable encroachment into this 5m zone before the player in possession has moved 5m with the ball would be a yellow card.

Ulster are due to host champions Connacht in the Athletic Grounds, Armagh on Saturday evening (7pm), after Leinster meet Munster earlier that afternoon (4pm) at Páirc Esler in Newry, with the final scheduled for Armagh's county ground on Sunday (2.30pm).

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