‘Clear, yet dramatic’ rules changes needed in Gaelic games, says Cork GAA CEO

Kevin O’Donovan made a critical appraisal of both hurling and football in his annual report

Cork GAA CEO Kevin O’Donovan has expressed strong views on the current state of the games. Although critical appraisals of football are quite common, it is unusual for criticism of hurling to be made in the public arena.

In a wide-ranging and thoughtful review in the course of his annual report, O’Donovan critiques football and suggests various solutions.

“Possession is king, conservatism is rife. Yet to expect any coaching team to just send their team out to play naively is simply counter-intuitive in a must-win environment. Therefore, the focus must be placed upon current playing rules rather than appealing to the ethos of the same coaches from whom we ultimately demand success.

“However, it is encouraging to now see an overwhelming desire for change. It is clear that individual contests must be nurtured within our games and that teams must be either rewarded for keeping players in advanced positions or punished for maintaining overtly defensive positioning.


“We must switch our approach from tinkering around the edges and instead introduce clear, simple, yet dramatic rule changes.”

One of his ideas is to ban the back pass to goalkeepers, whose evolving role as outfield players he identifies as one of the factors eliminating contests for the ball. He also proposes placing positional requirements on players.

“In terms of required positioning, having 15 players in their regular 1-15 positions for kick outs would be a start and easy to implement. For example, requiring the six forwards and backs and the respective sides to be to maintain three-on-three inside the 20m line and a further three-on-three inside the ‘45 could be considered.

“Most other invasion field sports have some form of offside rule. It appears that the time has now come for Gaelic football to go down the same road with its own distinct version. The calls for a requirement that teams keep three to four players inside the opposition 45m are worth listening to and should be trialled.”

O’Donovan believes that comprehensive trialling should be accompanied by detailed consultation with referees and goes on to consider the state of hurling, which he maintains is not as open to reform.

“While it is common practise nowadays for Gaelic football to be criticised at every opportunity, there appears to be a fear factor around any reasonable analysis of the game of hurling.

“And yet any clear analysis would surely indicate that hurling is embracing many of the traits which has led to the decline of Gaelic football as a spectacle. The obsession with possession and the short passing game has led to many boring encounters in recent seasons. This combined with the ease of scoring from distance have drained the game of so many of its qualities, reducing man-on-combat in the final third.

“The novelty of the long-range point has long since passed. This tactic is again governed by the percentage-play. Shoot enough times and it will provide a better return that playing a long pass to a sealed-off forward unit.

“Stopping the obvious and constant throwing of the sliotar would be a start here, as would penalising of players who take the ball into contact in pursuit of a free, having had prior opportunity to play it.

“Then, we might consider tackling the sweeper, limiting the scoring zone and reactivating the battle of the square. Ultimately, it is rather sad that while our players in both codes are more skilled than ever, the modern ‘percentage game’ seeks to limit the skills on display.

“Retain and recycle rather than risk. Sit back rather than attack. Therefore, the terms and conditions simply must change. The playing rules must evolve.”

He was critical of the number of matches in the intercounty season and the decisions of Central Council not to this out the fixtures schedule.

“Despite the recommendations of CCCC we continue to retain preseason competitions and football league finals and then all cry foul at the week-on-week activity.”

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Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times