GAA Football

'I don't think the game's that bad now to be honest' - the players give their say on proposed changes

With the consultation process for five proposed rule changes to Gaelic football open, Cahair O’Kane spoke to five more inter-county players to get their thoughts…

Read part one here

1. To introduce a limit of three consecutive handpasses for the team in possession
Charlie Vernon (Armagh): I appreciate it’s an attempt to encourage more kick-passing but a referee has enough on his plate without having to count handpasses. It would probably easier to implement a shot clock and there would be bigger incentive to play the ball forward quicker with the foot. It would also eliminate a team in a winning position hand-passing the ball across and back along the half way line. It’s also unnatural at certain stages in a game - imagine two players heading in towards goal and then have to make a five-yard kick pass to finish the goal chance because the ball had been played through with a hand pass.

Emmett Bradley (Derry): Don’t agree with this one, more than three handpasses are often required for some of the best flowing moves in the game. I’d be in favour of 13 a side being experimented with, in my experience of playing it, games seem to have all that spectators and players want. Difficult to set up defensively. Less congestion all over the pitch which should lead to teams seeing more value in the kick pass and higher scoring opportunities. There’s the bonus that the officials’ jobs stay the same without added confusion.

Killian Clarke (Cavan): I think the quality might go down because you’d be forced into a kick pass that you wouldn’t normally make. They’re pushing Gaelic football towards the Aussie Rules style of a few handpasses and then looking for a kick pass into the chest. I wouldn’t be a big fan of it, and I’ve talked to a few of the boys and I don’t think there’d be too many of them in favour of it either.

Aidan Breen (Fermanagh): I don’t think that’s ever going to work. Three’s too small a number anyway. For a start, referees will never be fit to keep track of it. You’ve a couple of minutes left, you’re a point up and you want to hold on to the lead, you’re going to have to kick the ball away. The other team knows you have to kick it. It’s an advantage to the other team because they know after three passes the ball has to be kicked.


2. A sideline kick can only be played in a forward direction, with the exception of one inside the opposition’s 13-metre line.
Killian Clarke: I don’t really see why that rule would even be contemplated. If the ball isn’t on or people aren’t making runs, it’s just going to be a big hoof. At the top level, you can work on different plays and ways to free someone up. That’s grand, but when you go to junior or intermediate club level, there isn’t that movement in a lot of them. I think if the option’s on behind it should be taken. I couldn’t see it being a good way to go.

Aidan Breen: That’s going to make it more defensive. If you’ve a sideline kick around midfield, around your attacking 45’, the other team knows this ball can only go forward. They’ll put men back and you’re either going to kick in a 50-50 ball and they’ll cover up the space, or you’ll be blown up because you’ve nowhere else to kick it. You’re totally losing your advantage.

Charlie Vernon: No major issue with this. Not convinced it will have that much of an impact though - a ball can be played forward 15 metres to gain possession followed by as many passes backward as you like? I can imagine a linesman coming under pressure judging marginal calls similar to forward passes in rugby. An alternative would be to have a ‘no backward pass once across the half way line or 45m line’ similar to the ‘back court’ rule in basketball.

Emmett Bradley: Worth trying.

Fermanagh defender Aidan Breen: "I don’t think there’s a need for such radical changes. They’re far too radical. I don’t think the game’s that bad now to be honest."


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.
Odhrán Mac Niallais: To be honest I think the rules are all a bit ridiculous apart from this one. It’s not really going to encourage skilful kick passing to inside forwards which is one of the main things that’s kind of going out of the game which is a shame, but due to sweepers and packed defences it’s nearly impossible. The mark will obviously encourage more kicking but it will be more so high balls in to big target men. I think the rest of the rules are just a bit much. I think the game isn’t too bad the way it is and it will also be very tough for referees with all these new rules, they have enough to do never mind adding more for them to concentrate on. Unless they add more referees to the game like the Aussie Rules.

Emmett Bradley: I agree with this, it’s worth experimenting as it will encourage long delivery by rebalancing the reward to risk ratio, but it will be hard for a ref to decide whether the player was inside or not when he made the catch.

Aidan Breen: I’d be on for that one, I could see that working and adding to the game. I can’t really see any negatives, so it’s definitely worth looking at. It should encourage long kicking, if you see a big man isolated inside – I know we’ve a couple of big men inside. There’s nothing more sickening for a man that does go up and catch one and he comes down surrounded by three men and he gets blown for over-carrying.

Charlie Vernon: The ‘Bear in the Square’ method will be back the fore with this one. The game will look very similar to Aussie Rules as a consequence. Haven’t decided if I’m more worried about there being a greater chance of me being selected as a full-back or full-forward for this one! People want to see more scores from play, I think this rule would reduce these significantly as you’re more likely to see players taking free kicks for scores rather having to beat an opponent to score. You could also be encouraging more sweepers in an attempt to prevent clean catches in forward line. It’s worth a trial to see how it pans out. I can envisage some other potential problems where players want to play on for goal but ref blows mark, defender then stops and attacker forced to come back for free kick. Could be a game changer in a big match.

Killian Clarke: This is one I thought might have been a good enough rule change. I played midfield for Cavan last year and I’d say in the whole league, I’d maybe 10 marks to contest in whatever seven or eight games. For a midfielder, that isn’t great. Personally I love having a ball in the air and fighting for it. If you’re going to a club match and you’re playing a team that’s not comfortable going short, there’s nothing better than seeing a lad getting up in the air. You don’t want a situation either when you have 10 or 15 bodies pulling and dragging out of each other. I think it’s probably the pick of them in terms of being plausible, people might jump on board with that.

Charlie Vernon: "It would probably easier to implement a shot clock and there would be bigger incentive to play the ball forward quicker with the foot."


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.
Emmett Bradley:
Like the idea of a sin bin but don’t agree with the proposal of this one, players are let away with clumsy systematic fouling too often before they’re even yellow carded. If a player was to receive one yellow card they should be sin-binned. This would encourage players to tackle to dispossess as opposed to tackling to foul or disrupt.

Charlie Vernon: Sin bin’s not a bad idea in principle, so long as it’s officiated properly and the time in bin is actual playing time. Two yellows should remain a red in my opinion. A real penalty for cynical play would be a tally of foul count and give free shot at goal as the punishment, similar to a free throw in basketball. If a team was conceding scores due to cynical play behaviours would likely change a bit quicker.

Killian Clarke: I think a situation where two yellows would be a black card would help. But if the sin bin comes into play, you’ll find teams will drop off and say ‘we’ll drop off and hold here, and wait until the numbers are back 15v15’. It’ll bring the game into a negative, rather than opening it up and getting back to the good oul days, as the oul ones like to say. I’m not 100 per cent convinced on the sin bin itself. The main thing would become not to concede when they’re down to 14. Maybe two yellows give you a black card as it is now.

Aidan Breen: There’s no real consistency in the black card, if anything it’s caused more controversy. It’d be no harm for it to be gone. The sin bin was tried a few years ago and didn’t really work, so I’m not sure what difference it’ll make now. It could be worth looking at but I wouldn’t really be on for it myself. Three yellow cards to get a red card is too much. I know I got sent off this year for two yellows but it is what it is. Three would be letting boys away with too much.

Emmett Bradley: "If a player was to receive one yellow card they should be sin-binned. This would encourage players to tackle to dispossess as opposed to tackling to foul or disrupt."


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.
Aidan Breen: How is that going to work? Are you going to have ten referees? How do you keep track of that? I think it’s madness. Each to their own but I cannot see how that’s going to work. It’s too rigid. They’re more or less saying ‘this is the way the game has to be played’. I genuinely can’t see that one working. I don’t think there’s a need for such radical changes. They’re far too radical. I don’t think the game’s that bad now to be honest.

Killian Clarke: It’s going back to the mark situation. I’d be in favour because I’m a midfielder. If you watch Tyrone, Niall Morgan will set up and chip the ball 15 yards to his left hand side if he’s given the opportunity. If you’ve the likes of Colm Cavanagh, who’s great at fielding the ball, there’s nothing better than seeing a player of that stature getting up and fielding a ball. Anything to move the game towards that high fielding. If you're forced to go long, it doesn’t give teams a chance to set up and it mightn’t be as defensively minded, so you can get in behind them before they get those three, four, five bodies back across their own 45’. I wouldn’t write any of the rules off. I’d like to see them in practice, but there has to be a time and a place to practice them.

Charlie Vernon: Kickouts passing the 45’ is worth seeing in practice although I think a limit of two players from each side in middle third seems very artificial for every kickout. I’d imagine it would also slow the game up a good bit, waiting on a half-forward who has tracked back to run back up to half-forward line. It would be interesting to see how it works in practice. It would certainly change the pattern of the game, possibly for the better.

Emmett Bradley: This is a mad one that will cause chaos in a lot of games, if passed. Think it will lead to too serious disruption with so much to police. Also some teams have a number of targets for kick-outs further beyond midfield or half backs running into a kick-out ahead of their defence. Not to forget, all teams don’t have keepers who can consistently reach the 45’ on a very windy day.

Killian Clarke: "I played midfield for Cavan last year and I’d say in the whole league, I’d maybe 10 marks to contest in whatever seven or eight games."


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