Changes to rules causing confusion
As the National Football League gets back into serious action next weekend, resentment about the introduction of the experimental rules in "subsidiary" competitions has begun to surface. Several team managers are expressing the view that the new rules have confused players, referees and spectators.
One prominent team manager, who was reluctant to be named, said that players had complained to him about the fact that they were being asked to play under different sets of rules on successive Sundays and that they felt that referees were also being put under extra pressure by having to change from one set of rules to another.
This was a clear reference to the fact that players from Leinster and Connacht were involved in playing in O'Byrne Cup and FBD League matches in the two provinces one weekend and then involved in Railway Cup matches, under different rules, on the next weekend.
There is a reluctance among team managers to be too critical of the experimental rules. Many of them believe that the rules are an attempt to sort out some of the problems which have beset Gaelic football and that they should be given a fair trial.
One man, however, who feels that there is little wrong with the rules as they stand is Mattie Kerrigan, the former Meath player and manager of the Leinster team beaten in extra time in the Railway Cup final at Clones last Sunday.
"It was a great game of football and although I have some problems with the refereeing, it showed that there is nothing wrong with the game so long as the rules are applied consistently," he said.
He puts great emphasis on fouls which arise from players pulling opponents by the jersey or shorts. "My view is that referees should send off any player who pulls another player's jersey. It doesn't matter whether it is in the first minute or the last minute. Anybody who pulls another player's jersey should be sent off straight away," he said.
He also believes that linesmen and, particularly, umpires should be given more authority. "Nobody can expect a referee to be in two places at once. He has two linesmen and four umpires, which is more that any other fieldgame that I know. Linesmen on the side farthest from the ball and all four umpires can see more than the referee. He has to follow the ball.
"Linesmen also have to move up and down the line. Umpires should be properly trained to watch what is happening off the ball and have some kind of a system of informing the referee even if he is in the other half of the field." He agrees that the mixture of rules involved in the O'Byrne Cup in Leinster and the FBD League in Connacht and in the Railway Cup matches involving both was confusing. He said that Dublin players admitted to confusion. "I am not making excuses. The fact is that players were playing under different sets of rules week by week and that was not an ideal situation.
"As far as the experimental rules themselves are concerned, I have no problem with the straight pick-up off the ground but, in general, I believe that we have a great game and that all we need is to tidy up the rules and insist that anybody who pulls another player's jersey be sent off straight away."
The sending off of players in such circumstances should apply only to that match and that no further punishment would apply, said Kerrigan. "Any player sent off in those situations would be told very quickly, by his manager and team-mates that he would not be in the team again if he persisted in such behaviour."
Kerrigan went on: "Now we find that that efforts are being made to take the hardness our of the game. I believe that all we have to do is to get referees, umpires and linesmen to enforce the rules that we have and do a few tidying-up operations on others . . . "We need to give more power to umpires in particular and train them properly. They are not there to watch the match. They are there to watch the players and, if necessary, be in immediate contact with the referee, even if he is at the other end of the field.
"It is a great game and we must protect it, but we must be careful that we don't destroy it," he said. Kerrigan also feels that it is silly to have a situation where championship matches are 10 minutes longer than National League matches. He feels that if the match in the Railway Cup between Ulster and Leinster last weekend had been played in two halves of 35 minutes that extra time would not have been needed.