The GAA has moved to address growing concern about the use of the handpass in hurling with a working group appointed to review the matter and report with “conclusions and recommendations” by the end of the summer.
This group will have an open agenda, which includes everything from stricter enforcement, to tweaking the regulations, to fundamental rule change.
The Standing Committee on the Playing Rules (SCPR), Croke Park’s influential think tank on trends and issues within the games, has confirmed that issue of the handpass has been on their agenda for a while and at last month’s meeting, the decision was taken to impanel a small group to consider the issue, according to committee chair David Hassan.
“We are very much aware of this issue,” he told The Irish Times and at our meeting in March a few weeks ago, we established a working group, which will have amongst its member Barry Kelly, an All-Ireland final referee, and Podge Collins, the Clare dual player, both of whom are members of the Playing Rules committee.
“They have been tasked as a small group with complementing their membership with one or two others to give this issue thorough examination and look at a range of options that could be brought forward to address this.
“I know that inevitably raises expectations about a rule change and the recommendations may be short of that – for instance a strengthening of the current wording or the trialling of some potential alternatives – but all options will be considered by the working group.”
In recent years, the issue of the handpass has been a source of recurrent controversy within hurling.
A valid pass is meant to feature two distinct movements, a ‘release’ and a ‘striking action’. Instead intercounty matches frequently showcase transfers that are effectively ‘throws’, which are prohibited under rule in both football and hurling.
It was reported this week in the Irish Examiner that a letter has gone out to the counties, reminding intercounty teams of the imperative to observe the rule. Hassan says that although the need is to proceed with caution, the working group will have a blank canvas.
“I’d be satisfied that Barry Kelly, who refereed four All-Ireland finals, Podge Collins and others will give this a thorough examination and will come forward with conclusions and recommendations and those recommendations may well include the trialling of alternatives. We’ve shown in the past that we have no difficulty with trialling rules if that’s a conclusion.
“Before that we should consider other options, like clarification of existing wording. I’d be satisfied the working group will come forward with proposals that reflect the broad range of opinions.”
A major advocacy role has been taken by former Tipperary All-Ireland winner, Conor O’Donovan, who has widely circulated a video of his alternative rules for the handpass, which involve using the non ball-holding hand to play away the sliotar.
In an interview with The Irish Times 18 months ago he explained why he believed intensified enforcement would not work.
“Referees can’t be sure whether there’s a striking action or not and they let a lot go but if they started to penalise it there’d be uproar. Get rid of the ambiguity.
“It would eliminate the rucks. Players wouldn’t be stopping to roll-lift the ball because if they get surrounded they can just offload it. Similarly players running into tackles, who are looking for frees don’t mind if they don’t get them because they can toss the ball to a runner off their shoulder.
“If that isn’t available they’ll think twice about running into tackles. Players who aren’t throwing the ball in today’s game are putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage.”
Last year, O’Donovan’s club Nenagh Éire Óg brought a motion for rule change to the Tipperary convention where it narrowly failed to secure sufficient support.