Farrell and Harte surprised by Congress decision on backpass rule

Managers feel change could have been trialled before start of the championship

Mickey Harte with Dublin manager Dessie Farrell following Tyrone’s league victory at Healy Park, Omagh.  Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Mickey Harte with Dublin manager Dessie Farrell following Tyrone’s league victory at Healy Park, Omagh. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

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It’s a rare thing for two opposing managers to display such whole-hearted agreement, especially when they’re from Dublin and Tyrone. Dessie Farrell and Mickey Harte share some dismay on this one too.

Not that Saturday’s game at Healy Park went ahead in such awful conditions – a decision incidentally made entirely by match referee Cormac Reilly, not the TV studios: their mutual concern is over the latest rule change to Gaelic football, passed by GAA Congress earlier in the weekend without any debate, which will prohibit a defender who receives a kick-out from passing it back to his goalkeeper.

Central Council confirmed the new rule would come into force from the start of the championship, not the remainder of the league; in other words without any trial or indeed scrutiny for error.

Farrell and Harte both agreed that introducing a new rule for the championship without any previous road-testing is a dangerous thing, whatever about the merits of such a rule.  

“I was surprised,” said Farrell. “Normally they like to try these things out. So I’m not sure what the motivation for it is. Is it a knee-jerk to something?”

Trialling the rule in the last two rounds of the Allianz Football League, and subsequent finals, would have allowed some room for familiarity: “That would have made an awful lot of sense, for sure,” said Farrell. “I don’t know whether that was discussed or not. It probably can’t happen now. It definitely would have made sense, yeah. But I think on face value, I wouldn’t be opposed to it.

“I actually think that’s a good rule change. It is squeezing the thing up, because you can see out there in situations where teams want to run down the clock, where they’ve got their advantage, and the use of the goalkeeper becomes quite apparent in that way. It just makes it more interesting.”

Because the original proposal came from Kildare club Raheens, it bypassed some of the scrutiny typically applied to playing-rules changes that originate with central committees, which in many cases are trialled during the national league; such rules can only be submitted by clubs in years divisible by five, 2025 being the next opportunity.

Harte was a little more dismissive of both the timing and need for the rule.

“Ach, sure it’s time for another rule change, isn’t it? The referees are only getting used to ones that are there, so give them a couple more. It may intend to invite teams to press, but I don’t know what the criteria was for bringing it in, I don’t know what the people who brought it in had in mind. But everything like that, players just adjust, and do whatever is required to live with the rule.

“There’s no point in me talking about the people who make the rules, because they make them anyway. They make as many as they want, and they don’t always consult with the people on the ground, whether these are sensible rules or not. And that’s a fact.”

Sensible rule

The Tyrone manager, whose team inflicted Dublin’s first league defeat of 2020, also agrees with Farrell that a trial in the remaining league games would been ideal.

“Yeah, and that’s what I’m telling you, they don’t consult the people on the ground who would be able to tell whether this is sensible thing to do or not. They just bring them in, that happens, and we can do nothing about it.”

Harte also rejected the suggestion coming from GAA headquarters that all competitions need to be played under the same rules.

“Well let me tell you about the same rules in the same competitions,” said Harte. “I can remember back to 2013, Petey Harte was going through for a ball, playing Mayo in a [All-Ireland] semi-final, and he got nailed. He didn’t even have the ball in his hands, and he got wrote-off. Couldn’t continue the game. Last week Kieran McGeary hit a player fair and square with his shoulder, he got a red card. The other team didn’t even get a free.

“That’s the same game, the same rules, the referees are refereeing under. No rule changes came in to affect that. That’s what happens in games, you have to live with that, but we’re not pleased to have to live with what we had to live with last week anyway.”

There has been some further clarification on the new backpass rule following Congress: if the goalkeeper doesn’t take the kick-out, he has to stand inside his own six-yard box, as per the existing rule. So teams won’t be able to circumnavigate the new rule by having goalkeepers out receiving the ball.

In the meantime Harte heaped plenty of praise on his goalkeeper Niall Morgan, who hit four wonderful frees despite the conditions on Saturday night; Morgan had four shots at goal in all, and converted seven, one effort following a sweeping run up the field drifting just wide.

“It’s critical,” said Harte. “We did a serious amount of work to win those frees, so when they’re missed, that’s all in vain. But when you get a score the players feel good, feel good about working for them. That’s the difference.”

Farrell also confirmed that Jack McCaffrey was taken off before the end, having been introduced earlier on precautionary grounds: “Yeah, we took him off, here was a slight concern with him. He flagged something with us, so rather than run the risk, we said we’d get him out.”

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