New rules greeted with healthy scepticism in Dr Cullen Park

Handpassing rule was only one that really impacted as Westmeath overcame Carlow

Dr Cullen Park was the scene as Westmeath overcame Carlow in the O’Byrne Cup. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Dr Cullen Park was the scene as Westmeath overcame Carlow in the O’Byrne Cup. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

Carlow 0-8 Westmeath 0-12

The hardy few hundred souls who put their bums on seats at Dr Cullen Park expecting a glimpse into the future of Gaelic football didn’t exactly find a crystal ball hinting of any great promise. Indeed, this O’Byrne Cup match between Westmeath and Carlow provided very little clarity of what direction the proposed new rules will take the game.

If there was a degree of disconcerted murmuring from the home crowd when their team arrived out kitted in their away gear, with the red band absent, it was nothing to compare with the new game of counting the hand passes. Try as they might, the spectators couldn’t help themselves. Perhaps it’s a marketing ploy from a certain mobile phone network because any time the limit of three hand passes was reached, those in the crowd reacted with shouts of “Three, three, three!” as a warning that a foot pass was now required.

“I think the referee has enough to do,” said Carlow stalwart Daniel St Ledger. “You can hear him trying to count the passes to himself, (as well as) trying to ref everything else. Personally, I’m not fond of it wildly.”

Carlow had four misdemeanours with the hand passing limit, Westmeath just one.

The hand-passing was one thing, or maybe three, but the other rule changes were largely irrelevant on this December Sunday afternoon. There was hardly a sideline kick to even wonder if the ball was going in a forward direction. There was the grand total of . . . . wait for it . . . . one offensive mark in the entire game. And there was one sin-binning, Westmeath’s Seán Petit, sent to the cool-down area for 10 minutes by referee Anthony Nolan of Wicklow.

What there was, was a lot of was lateral play and also backward kicking and passing. Prior to the match, and before the minute’s silence to honour former Leinster chairman Séamus Howlin, Westmeath’s warm-up routine seemed to take into account an increased emphasis on foot-passing. In the match, though, that foot-passing – from both teams – was of the short, sometimes very short, variety. Three metres. Four metres. Five metres. Very little of the long kick-passing possibly envisaged in committee meeting rooms.

Jack Cooney, the new Westmeath manager, admitted: “It is not easy for the ref with everything going on. Does it speed up the game? Does it slow down the game? I don’t know. At times it looked as if the game was at a snail’s pace. A lot of the kick passes were short. I don’t know if that’s what the outcome should be . . . . I don’t know did it change the format or structure of the game an awful lot? First day out, we just have to sit back and view it and see what it is like. I think in general I don’t think the quality of the game was any better or any worse as a result of the new rules.”

From a player’s perspective, St Ledger clearly isn’t a fan of limiting the hand passes. “It changes the game too much in the wrong way. There was times three hand passes and a fourth, then a free, and they go back and it starts again and another free. I have been open enough. I’m not fond of it. I have played four games under it now and I can’t see any positive. If there is going to be changes, they have to be positive benefits and I can’t see it. There was a lot of people lauding lots of turnovers (from Saturday’s games). I mean, players don’t want turnovers. Managers don’t want turnovers. It is ridiculous. You get coached not to turn over the ball and all of a sudden you are into this back and forth and table tennis nearly sort of thing.”

As for the match itself? Well, with a strong wind blowing straight down the pitch, and a soft pitch from the heavy midweek rain, conditions were difficult for the players without having the new rules to add to the workload.

Westmeath – with a string of debutants, and with the likes of John Heslin who is completing his PhD ready to come back in the New Year - left much the happier on the back of a 0-12 to 0-8 win on Cooney’s competitive managerial debut. Petit, apart from having the distinction of being black-carded in the 40th minute, also kicked five points (two from play) while Luke Loughlin made quite an impression when introduced as a second-half sub. His left foot could yield more precious reward in the days ahead, new rules or not.

WESTMEATH: K Fagan; B Sayeh, R Wallace, G Carr; N O’Reilly, K Daly (0-1), C Slevin; S Flanagan, N Mulligan; A McGivney, P Fagan (0-1), J Maxwell; S Petit (0-5, 3f), J Halligan (0-2), T Watts. Subs: K Martin for Carr (h-t), L Loughlin (0-3, 3f) for Watts (41), N Cully for Sayeh (49), C McCormack for Fagan (61), T Molloy for Petit (68).

CARLOW: R Molloy; BJ Molloy, J Murphy, C Crowley; J Moore, S Doyle (0-1, 1f), D Lunney (0-2); J Kennedy, D Foley (0-1, 1f); S Clarke, P Broderick, L Walker (0-1); C Crowley, D Walshe (0-2, 1f), D St Ledger (0-1). Subs: C Moran for Broderick inj (9), D Thompson for Crowley (43), N Lowry for Kennedy (45), N Roche for Clarke (49), J Clarke for Moran (58).

Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow).

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