A white Gaelic football on a grass pitch as the GAA announce that the controversial 3 hand pass limit rule has been scrapped

The controversial restriction on hand-passing in football which limited players to 3 consecutive hand passes has been axed by the GAA after a lengthy debate at Central Council yesterday at Croke Park.

The proposal was narrowly defeated by a vote of 25 to 23 which means the trial, initially intended to run through the national football league came to an end after today’s FBD Connacht final.

The controversial rule received a chorus of dissent from managers and players since its introduction and the Gaelic Players Association also voiced their opposition to it during the past week.

Referees also expressed that they are finding the implementation of the rule difficult.

Some were reduced to counting out the hand-passes in an effort to keep track and to help teams as they became accustomed to the new rule. Although this also led to some skullduggery from players with one referee reporting that players have been shouting out random numbers to confuse the situation.

There was also the human error factor to take into account with the hand pass rule and that added problem with its implementation was very evident in Friday nights O’Byrne Cup Final with the referee missing a fourth hand pass on no fewer than 4 occasions.

Whatever the impact that would have on a preseason competition but just imagine the uproar aimed at the GAA if it occurred in a national league final or relegation battle and it led to a score that cost a team either a title or position in a certain division.

The introduction for the trial of the three successive hand pass restriction rule was the result of data-based deliberations by the SCPR, chaired by Derry academic David Hassan, and based on findings by football statistician Rob Carroll and was aimed at reducing the rising ratio of hand-passing to kick-passing which rose to 3.4 to 1 in last year’s championship.

All sports evolve and when they do sometimes rule changes are required to keep up with that evolution, but only if they enhance and improve the sport especially as a spectacle.

The 3 hand pass limit rule certainly didn’t enhance the spectacle, watching players on the ball in recent games they looked tentative hand-passing the ball as they were unsure if they were making the third or fourth pass.

Rules should not have the affect of stifling the playing instincts of players or reducing them to repetitively counting to three.

Plus as the quality of teams increased and the pace of the game in the NFL rose Players would find all the more difficult to keep track of the count as would the referees and the game would become more start/stop, that would hardly improve the game as a spectacle.

Although there has been much call for rule changes particularly over the last year or so, the point has been missed as to the cause of the perceived ills and loss of spectacle of the game and that’s the over the negative defensive tactics deployed by the majority of teams.

The constant sight of 13 or 14 outfield players in their own half protecting the scoring zone has become the norm. And with retention of possession the currency of the game teams will not kick a low percentage ball towards one of their forward colleagues surrounded by opposition players.

So the hand pass is now utilised more than ever to retain the ball and probe for openings in the mass defences and teams can’t be blamed for doing that.

Instead of limiting the use of any of the skills of the game those charged with changing the game need to look at the ways of nullifying the tactics being deployed by managers and coaches because it is those tactics which are having an impact on the spectacle of the sport.

That won’t be easy and any proposals brought forward will be met with plenty of discontent from those who would prefer that the status quo remain.

Some ideas thrown around have been to insert a rule that all teams must have four opposing players in the opposition half at all times and another is to reduce team numbers to 13 aside. How viable either suggestion would be or even how easy they would be to implement is a discussion for another day.

The other four experimental rules will continue to be trialed in the national league and will then be reviewed before they go before a special congress in the autumn and potentially come into regulatory force in a year’s time.

The four rules are as follows:

1) Sideline balls must be kicked forward except when in or on the opposition 20-metre line.

2) An attacking mark may be taken inside the opposition 45 provided kicked in play from within the opposition 45 and travelling at least 20 metres. (Although not widely mentioned this also allows a defender to make a mark under a dropping ball.)

3) A black-card infraction to be punished by 10 minutes in a sin-bin rather than automatic substitution by a replacement.

4) Kick-out to be taken from 20-metre line and all players other than keepers shall be outside 20m line & 13m from ball until it is kicked.

On the evidence so far the only one from the above four rules that is worth keeping is the sin-bin rule.

Of the other three, two of the them, the sideline kick and kick-out, by forcing kicks in just one direction or distance both favour over negative defensive teams.

The remaining rule the Attacking Mark has two problems, firstly with most teams using a blanket defence, very few teams will be inclined to chance a 20+ metre kick with a risk of turning over possession on the off chance of an uncontested catch, so how much will it actually be used.

The second problem was highlighted on Friday night in Parnell Park, a Westmeath player found himself free just inside the Dublin 45’ a kick was aimed in his direction and he caught the ball, he didn’t even need to jump for the ball, he called the Mark and had a free shot at a point.

Some may say so what, that’s the point of the rule excuse the pun, but really is that what the game of Gaelic football is about now rewarding totally unmarked players for executing a basic skill of the game just because they happen to be standing in a certain area of the pitch, where is the skill in that? Is that really improving the spectacle of the game.

Do the GAA want players to play Gaelic Football or a hybrid version of Aussie Rules, they need to make up their minds.