Rule changes to remain in place for club championships
CLUBS and referees across Ireland will have to get used to football's new rules in high stakes championship games after the GAA confirmed the changes would remain in place.
A special congress voted last October to implement a handful of changes to Gaelic football, including the controversial attacking mark and altering the punishment for the black card.
With many counties jumping straight into club championship games as soon as action is set to resume on July 31, it will mean club players and officials will have to iron out the kinks in season-defining games.
The rules will also remain in place for the remainder of the inter-county season which, if reports are correct, is set to begin with the final two Allianz Football League rounds in late October before a straight knockout championship on the current provincial basis from November.
While clubs and referees in particular might have preferred to delay the onset of the new rules, to do so would have been technically tricky for the GAA.
To have pulled the changes now only to re-implement them in 2021 would have had to be done through further national congresses, given that it is the only body with the power to make changes to playing rules.
The mark, an extension of the midfield version which has also been altered, will see players making a clean catch inside the 45' given a free kick provided the ball came from outside and had travelled at least 20 metres.
Designed to encourage more kicking in the game, it had been a controversial move from the outset and endured teething problems even at inter-county level, where referees struggled to adjudicate on distance and players were confused over the signals around it.
The length of time allowed for a midfield mark was increased from five to 15 seconds, while all kickouts will also be moved out from the 13-metre line to the 20-metre line, and cannot travel backwards.
And the punishment for receiving a black card has been changed from a substitution of the guilty player to a 10-minute sin-binning, the policing of which had been earmarked as a potential issue at club level before the pandemic struck.
Crossmaglen manager Stephen Kernan, whose team played a pre-season tournament in Burren at the start of the year under the new rules, says he would he “happy to run with them”.
“If we run with it now, it'll leave it a whole lot clearer for next year,” said the former Armagh forward.
“If we don't run with it now and we're bringing it in next year, it's always in the background. So maybe we might be as well running with it now.
“By the time championship comes, I think the referees will be well versed on it and be able to look after the ability to make that call, which is new for them, in the same way we have to coach it.
“But we're going to have to coach it at some stage, and the players will have to get used to it.
“If we only have a certain amount of time now to get used to it, referees only have the same amount of time.”
Naomh Conaill manager Martin Regan told The Irish News yesterday he believed the alterations would be better set aside this year.
“Everyone's talking about the different systems but the new rules are the real spanner in the works, because no club has played with them,” he said.
“It's getting clarity there because we won't get proper training until July 20. You really only have two weeks getting training.
“I think it's easier for everyone [to abandon the rule changes]. It's something we'd have been looking at and planning in training, but you're just not going to have that time now.
“Referees haven't reffed it and they're going into championship games with these new rules.
“They're already talking about not having enough referees because games are so crammed and there's so many competitions to run off.
“Now if you're running with the sin bin, do you need another official on the line to deal with that? It just has a lot of question marks and in championship, the games are too big to be trying things out.”