National Football League
Donegal v Tyrone
Saturday, Ballybofey, 7pmxx
By Frank Craig
Shaun Patton admits that he hasn’t really paid too much attention to the new kickout rule that comes into effect at the start of this season’s championship.
The new rule forbids players in Gaelic football from passing back to the goalkeeper after receiving a kickout.
The Donegal custodian was speaking at Tuesday’s press conference ahead of his side’s crucial NFL clash with Tyrone in Ballybofey on Saturday night.
The latest meddling of the playing rules has come in for some sharp criticism with Niall Morgan – Patton’s opposite number at the weekend – the latest to have a pop.
Both men are viewed as two of the top and most innovative goalkeepers in the game. Pressed on the potential of the new rule to limit the variety of his kicks, Patton said ‘keepers will look to ‘think around it’.
“I find it interesting,” he said. “I have looked at the likes of Rory Beggan and Morgan who are heavily involved with the play outfield with their clubs. It is not something I would be massively involved in but I would obviously give that level of support if a player is in difficulty.”
Despite his current indifference to the change, he does say that the tinkering is unwarranted and needs to stop. Gaelic football, as a product, should be left alone to settle and find some rhythm once again.
Because Patton feels a palpable confusion now exists with both referees and players struggling to adapt to the various changes in direction.
“It puts a defender under a wee bit more pressure if they receive a kick out. It is what it is. It is something I would not agree with.
“I don’t think there is anything wrong with the game the way it is. A couple of the new rules that came in have been controversial but it is just something I don’t think the game needed. They brought it in so we will have to adjust to it.
“The main thing with kickouts is to retain possession, be it long, be it short, and to get the ball into Donegal hands. That is the main objective with every kickout.
“Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn’t but it is that factor if you are under a bit of pressure and you need to get the ball away and the defender gets closed in by three opponents and can’t give the ball back to you.
“It is a bit crazy but we will just have to adjust to it. It’s confusing and that’s the main concern.“
There will no opportunity to try out the new kickout rule and sides will go into their respective provincial championship encounters without having road tested it in a competitive enviroment.
Once the league has finished, Patton and the rest of the country’s stoppers will no doubt begin plotting and finding a way to make the ruling work to their advantage.
He explained: “There is always a way around something so it will be interesting to see how it does go.
“I don’t think it will be of any great benefit to the game. It is out of our control so we have to take it on the chin and move on.
“It is something you have to adjust to. Rule changes come in every year to try to improve the game. But I thought football was moving in the right direction the way it was.
“The couple of rule changes might change it, or might not affect it. We will have to see what the consequences are.”
Asked to speculate on just how it might affect his game going forward, Patton looked at a number of scenarios. But again, he says it’s all hypothetical.
But without any trials, he agrees it’s going to be very interesting to see the reaction and potential backlash if it proves to be more or a hindrance that an actual help to football.
“You are going to have to see it in action before you see the impact it has. Until it comes into the game I can’t make a decision on it because I don’t know what it is going to do, if it is going to be positive or negative.
“Is it going to entice the ball to be kicked longer and teams to press up higher? There could be so many different factors that could lead from it but you won’t know that until you see it. It could go one way or the other.”
Meanwhile, the battle between Patton and Morgan in Ballybofey on Saturday night will no doubt have an impact on the end result. Both men will be back at the very same venue on May 17 when the stakes will be much higher.
Game recognises game and Patton has nothing but praise and respect for the Tyrone No. 1.
“I met Niall years ago before I started to play Gaelic football. He is a lovely fellow, an absolute gentleman. He is a top class keeper and you saw the exhibition he gave in those conditions against Dublin. He is well capable of that.
“He is a fit goalkeeper. He can join in the play, he can run with the ball, he can kick it extremely accurately, he brings so many dimensions to the position. He is top class ‘keeper.”
They’re often compared but there are notable differences between the pair. Patton says he isn’t as adventurous and he also doesn’t hit frees for Donegal.
It’s a distraction he says and with the calibre of shooters his side already possess; it’s not something he’s been asked to consider or undertake.
“You have players like Michael Murphy, Ciarán Thompson and Patrick McBrearty that can kick frees from anywhere. Why try to fix something that isn’t broken?
“I’ve no interest in kicking frees when you have lads like that that are so good at it. It’s something that I can do. But it takes a lot of practice but it’s something I haven’t really worked on.
“You need to be at it all the time. To get that kind of consistency you have to work at it. I took it on for the club and it didn’t actually work out that well.
“It was a role given to me because someone felt, and fairly enough, that ‘here, you can kick the ball long and accurately.’
“But there is much more to it than that. I find it difficult. The range is there, the accuracy sometimes but to get the two to go hand in hand simply takes time.”