McEnaney says new GAA rules will be demanding but manageable
Surprise that permanent adoption of rule changes was decided with little debate
Referee Conor Lane black-carding Dublin’s Cormac Costello in the All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo in Croke Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
The new rules adopted by the weekend’s GAA special congress will make additional demands on referees but will be manageable, according to one expert in the area.
Pat McEnaney, a Monaghan referee who had charge of four All-Ireland finals, including the 1996 replay, and who went on to chair the National Referees Committee, was commenting on the impact of the three changes adopted in Cork on Saturday.
The three proposals accepted – implementing the attacking mark, the introduction of a sin bin for black card infractions and the 20m kickout – were all trialled in the spring’s national league.
There was surprise that the permanent adoption of the changes was decided with little in the way of engaged debate once delegates had accepted the Tier 2 football championship.
GAA president John Horan admitted that he had expected there to be more discussion, particularly on the advance mark, allowing players a free kick if they catch a kicked pass of at least 20m distance within the opposition 45.
“I thought the debate on that would have been far more comprehensive, probably a little more divisive than it actually was. You saw the level of debate. We are where we are. That’s the democracy we have, that’s what we produce. So we have to move on.”
For McEnaney that provision will be the most demanding from a match official’s perspective, but he also had concerns about the introduction of a 10-minute sin bin for black card infractions, punishing cynical or calculated fouling, which had previously been dealt with by requiring the player in question to leave the field and be replaced for the rest of the match.
Concerns had already been expressed by senior coaching authority Paul Earley, who served on the Football Review Committee which had introduced the black card, that without a stop-clock the 10-minute period of the sin bin would be hard to enforce and encourage time-wasting, something McEnaney echoes.
“The 20m kickout – there’s no issue there, and I don’t think the sin bin is going to be a refereeing issue. The problem I have with a 10-minute penalty for the black card is it will encourage defensive football. If a team goes to 14 men they’re going to sit tight and, like rugby, try to kill the game and waste as much time as they can.
“To me that’s an encouragement for negativity. Let’s see how it works out, but that’s my concern. Referees need to be focused [on time-wasting] but there won’t be an awful lot they can do about it.”
The forward mark drew some comment at congress, most notably from Pat Doherty, until earlier this year Croke Park’s referees’ manager, who in his capacity as a Westmeath delegate argued that the new rule was a “piecemeal” proposal and would complicate matters for referees who were already under enough pressure .
McEnaney agrees with the sentiment, but says that referees are going to have to vary their approach.
“The forward mark means that referees are going to have to be in good enough shape and they’ll need to be ahead of the game. The problem with that is whereas at county level it’s okay because there are less mistakes, but at club level there are more errors and turnovers, and if you’re refereeing too far ahead of the game you can get caught out of position.
“If you’re looking to get the mark right, particularly when you’re on your own and don’t have linesmen, the question is did it travel 20m or not. Again a referee will need to be slightly ahead of the play or they’ll be caught.”
Earley expressed himself surprised when the measure was introduced because he felt, like Doherty, it would have implications for match officials, placing undue demands on them.
In his view the move also revives an argument that he had advocated for the introduction of a second referee in football. McEnaney disagrees – although he sees the idea as having merit in hurling – and doesn’t believe the new rule strengthens the case.
“I don’t think it will even with the new rules. I’ve never been mad about the idea in the modern game where we don’t kick the ball. It’s not a kicking game. Modern football is much easier to referee than back in the day when players used to just kick the ball long.
“I do believe though that hurling could benefit from it, and I’d like to see it tried. Hurlers can deliver the ball 60 or 70 yards and the referee has no chance, but football’s more of a hand-passing or basketball-type of game.
“Referees will need to start looking ahead once the ball gets to the 45 and that will come because you’ll pick up the positioning from making the odd mistake.”
When the proposal was trialled in the league not all counties engaged with it, including Dublin, who focused on the ultimately successful quest for a record five-in-a-row All-Ireland championship and didn’t practise rules that wouldn’t be in force for the championship.
“It wasn’t used much but now that it’s a rule change things may be different. Dublin, for instance, have never played that type of ball, so maybe Jim has a bit of rethinking to do. Kerry will be better suited by it in my opinion because they tend to use big full forwards and kick the ball into them. County teams will be looking for ball-winners if they’re going to exploit it fully.”