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Rating the proposed rule changes in Gaelic Football

The GAA have proposed some new rule changes to Gaelic Football which will be implemented during the 2019 league campaign.

Today in Croke Park, David Hassan, Chairman of the Standing Committee on playing rules, John Horan, GAA President and Fergal McGill, Director of Player, Club and Games Administration formally announced the experimental Gaelic Football rules that will be trialled as part of the inter-county National Football Leagues for 2019.

We take a closer look at these proposed rule changes, and analyse what impact, if any, they will have, whether they will have negative or positive connotations for the game, the requirement for the specific rules, and the effectiveness they are likely to have.

The Mark

The mark has been a long spoken about addition to the game, taking a leaf out of the book from the AFL in Australia, which we share a long history with.

In an attacking sense, it will oblige teams to be more attacking and attempt more kicks from distance into the forward line, especially if teams are adorned with players of decent pass catching ability in the air. One negative effect could see the limitation of the nippy corner forward, in place of bigger specimens in the forward line to win balls in the air.

The GAA has justified the inclusion of the rule with stats, including how the number of kick passes per average inter-county game has decreased by 15% since 2011. Based on this trend, the report predicts that by 2023, the next period during which the GAA can make experimental rule changes, there will be below 96 kick passes per game.

Necessity Rating: 3/5 – It’s definitely worth a trial run, especially considering its usefulness Down Under.

Game Effectiveness Rating: 4/5 – It should modestly improve the attacking flow to the game and enhance risk taking amongst attacking play. But it could trigger a trend back towards more lumbering forwards ahead of smaller, quicker players who can’t win the ball as cleanly in the air to award a mark. In addition, it could help spread score taking more across the forward line and increase the quality of shot taking from players.

Kick-Outs

The proposal to have kick-outs go beyond the 45m line was amended to have the kicks be taken from the 20m, with no minimum distance to travel. It shouldn’t have a huge bearing on the game, not so near as much as a 45m minimum, but it should lead to quicker attacking transitions if teams decided to take advantage of the extra few metres.

In that case, the change will majorly benefit the elite goalkeepers in the game who can hit pinpoint passes from distance, such as Monaghan’s Rory Beggan or Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton. As such, the rule change will drive a further wedge between the top tier teams and those who don’t have the same player quality in the positions effected by the rule change.

The GAA provided a figure which read that the number of kick-outs passing the 45m line has fallen by 40% since 2011, although they admitted that the majority of county players surveyed did not agree with this rule change.

It won’t have a major impact on the game itself, as teams who wish to take short kick outs still can, and teams who prefer to launch it forward will now have more of an advantage. Some teams will invariably get it right, while others may struggle to adapt or employ tactics that will successfully secure possession of the ball. It does add a degree of uncertainty to the game-play from kick-offs, which may lead to higher scoring and more exciting counter attacks, but it seems like a part of the game that was best left untouched.

Necessity Rating: 1/5With the other changes being proposed to help increase the attacking influence on the game and better martial cynical behaviour, it wasn’t necessary to amend the kick-out practices.

Game Effectiveness Rating: 2/5Each kick-out will now have a degree of uncertainty, and lean positively towards the teams with better kick takers.

Limit of three consecutive hand-passes

As part of the GAA’s presentation today, it was revealed that in the 2011 football championship inter-county season, 83.8% of hand-passes were in chains of three or less. In 2018, that figure was reduced to 69%. There is no doubt that excessive, lateral and backward hand-passing is a blight on the game, and the above figures illustrate how the administrators came up with the number three figure.

The rationale behind the move is that 75% of passes were hand-passes in this years’ All-Ireland final and since 2011 there has been an increase of an average of 100 hand-passes per game.

The repetitive argument is a valid one – surely a referee’s job in the modern game is difficult enough, counting steps (inaccurately, quite often, but that’s another matter entirely), watching for cynical play, distinguishing between black, yellow or red cards, the list is endless. This one is easier to martial than the mark, but still not straight-forward.

The possibility of an error being made by an official is huge, similar to the “double bounce” rule in effect at present, which is often missed, by simple human error. Whether the implementation of the rule would in fact have a positive effect, or simple encourage other means of negative play, remains to be seen.

In theory, the idea is a good one. Reduce the availability of the safer option, and this should see the return of more movement, forward pressing, and, crucially, kicking. Or, in a panic after the third pass is made, the player in possession might just boot the ball backwards, such is the current level of fear among today’s player of losing possession.

In truth, this one is perhaps the most revolutionary, and the one that contains the most mystique. Personally, I can see it working on some levels, but it could be a disaster on others. It should reward the more skillful players, and showcase the more limited ones, something the game is badly in need of. It’s worth a shot.

Necessity Rating: 3/5 – Purists say leave the game alone, and it’ll come good in time. Evolution is a powerful thing, and the spectacle should improve organically. Shouldn’t it? No harm in trying something extreme, to see how it works out.

Game Effectiveness Rating: 5/5 – This will have an impact on styles of play, formation and both on the ball and off the ball tactical endeavors. Whether that impact will be positive or negative remains to be seen.

Sin-Bin

The most obvious inclusion. An actual deterrent to reduce cynical fouling, those fouls that seek to illegally gain an unfair advantage, or to intentionally pull down an opponent. Being a man down for ten minutes is a much more appropriate sanction than replacing them with another. According to figures garnered by the GAA, 6/10 players surveyed agreed or strongly agreed with the proposal to introduce a sin-bin sanction for a black card infraction.

It’s hard to argue with this one.

Necessity Rating: 5/5 – It should work – but there may be some inconsistency between how it is enforced.

Game Effectiveness Rating: 4/5 – It’s hard to see this not having a tangible impact on behaviour.

Sideline Kick

The GAA justify this proposal on the grounds that it will generate more contested possessions, encourage the ball to be returned to play, and further initiate offensive plays. Overall, in 2018, 21% of frees went backwards, 45% of sideline kicks went backwards, 52% of sideline kicks in defensive half went backwards and 36% of all sideline kicks in the offensive half went backwards.

Stats that are difficult to argue with, and a move that is frustrating to watch. Yet, what do they mean exactly by forwards? Can it be kicked laterally? Again, it’s not an easy one to monitor or implement.

Necessity Rating: 2/5 – It helps keep the game on an attacking footing, but the game wasn’t going to die a death with backwards sideline kicks.

Game Effectiveness Rating: 3/5It may be treated more like a set piece, which should be a good thing in the overall attacking flow of the game.

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