I HARBOUR major concerns about how the new rules will evolve this year in our game. I am genuinely concerned about the volume of pressure that is going to be placed on our referees over the coming months.
A lot of coaches and managers up and down the country will probably share some empathy with my column this week, the frustrations of watching different referees and the interpretation of the rules within our game.
A referee in an inter-county game has three other fully qualified officials assisting him. It’s important to remember umpires are generally only friends and family of the referee and carry few qualifications on rules or decisions, but the linesmen and fourth official have and I think they should be used more.
A linesman’s role is to police sideline balls and mark free kicks and 45s, could they not operate on either side of the field a couple of yards in from the sideline?
That would allow them to still call line balls but more importantly take an active role particularly when assisting the new mark rule, which ultimately I do feel is a disaster for our game.
We are introducing all these new rules for referees to try and interpret and yet one of the most contentious rules refereed is one that currently exists, the interpretation of the tackle.
When I attend a football match, I want to see the game flow, I don’t want the whistle to blow multiple times in the first 15 or 20 minutes, ruining the game as a spectacle and leaving everyone frustrated, managers, supporters and most importantly players.
Ask players how they want a game refereed and they will all tell you, they want a referee who keeps a consistent flow to the game and not one who is extremely overly fussy.
We have got to remember, Gaelic football has got clearly defined rules, but it is also a game in which contact regularly happens and it is one of the most admirable aspects of our game. However, regarding the issue of tackling, it’s the inconsistencies that exist that really frustrate everyone. Some coaches and managers might not be aware of this, but there is however an actual definition in the GAA for tackling which reads:
“The tackle is a skill by which a player may dispossess an opponent or frustrate his objective within the rules of fair play. The tackle is aimed at the ball, not the player. The tackler may use his body to confront the opponent but deliberate bodily contact (such as punching, slapping, arm holding, pushing, tripping, jersey pulling or a full frontal charge) is forbidden. The only deliberate physical contact can be a fair charge i.e. shoulder-to-shoulder with at least one foot on the ground. More than one player can tackle the player in possession.”
Reading the above definition does leave the whole debate of what is a legitimate tackle very open and one person’s interpretation of a legitimate tackle could be very different to another person’s opinion.
For a referee to have to make an instant decision in real time is obviously very difficult and we must share some sympathy for those in the middle with the whistle because it’s becoming an increasingly difficult job.
I personally disagree with the view from some that the tackle can’t be coached.
Coaches can coach the tackle within their training sessions but problems occur when coaches “let things go” in training and subsequently these bad habits are carried into a game.
This is why when coaching the tackle in training it is imperative that any clear fouls, which according to the above definition include punching, slapping, pulling, tripping or frontal charging, are punished. You must explain to the players clearly where they are going wrong otherwise players will feel that this is fine.
There is no doubt that tackling is a skill, and if you can coach the proper technique to your players it will give them the belief and confidence to execute the skill of tackling effectively during a game. When it comes to coaching the tackle, consider the following four Ds:
Delay – Try to slow the player in possession down, break their momentum force them to alter their feet or body. That, in turn, will help you execute the tackle more efficiently.
Deny – Suffocate the space of the player on the ball, invade his personal space to deny him sufficient room to manoeuvre.
Dispossess – Legally try to strip the ball from your opponent, wait for the player to make a play, ie solo or a bounce then pounce!
Develop – One of the most under coached aspects of the tackle, what happens after you actually win the ball back. You must think transitions, turn defence immediately in to attack!