By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — The handpass could soon be a thing of the past if the GAA’s Football Development Committee has its way. Among several new experimental rule changes for the National League, which kicks off next weekend, is a ban on the handpass.
The committee has effectively outlawed the short passing style of play which was so favored by beaten All-Ireland finalists Kildare and also by Derry. The fisted pass is set to remain, with players having to clearly use a clenched fist for the referee’s benefit.
The committee, chaired by former Offaly’s All-Ireland winning manager, Eugene McGee, felt that the handpass had undermined the skill of high catching and that it was responsible for too much fouling. However, other commentators have pointed out that both Galway and Offaly were able to devise highly successful game plans without much emphasis on the handpass.
Whatever about administrators wanting to improve football as a spectacle, the handpass regulation will only apply for the duration of the League with normal business resuming for next summer’s Championship. Confused? Think how the players feel.
Meanwhile, in a continuation of the emphasis on playing the ball with the feet, the goalkeeper will no longer be able to pass the ball away with his hand.
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The other significant rules experiment for the League concerns the overdue introduction of the yellow- and red-card system. A yellow card will be shown by the referee for a bookable offense and if a second bookable offense is committed, the player will be shown another yellow card, followed by a red, which will signify a sending off.
"The hope is that the clampdown on pulling and dragging will be maintained through the use of the card system," McGee said. "The fact that a player sent off for two yellow cards will only be suspended for the remainder of that match should encourage referees to send off those who deserve it."
O’Leary signs with Leeds
Following a couple of weeks of intense speculation, former Republic of Ireland international David O’Leary finally signed on the dotted line as manager of Leeds United in the English Premiership.
Leeds’ first choice to replace George Graham, who had been lured to Tottenham Hotspur, was Martin O’Neill. However, O’Neill was refused permission by his club, Leicester City, to talk terms with Leeds.
That brought O’Leary into the frame and once the likable Dubliner, who enjoyed a glittering career with both Arsenal and Ireland, had been guaranteed enough funds to buy several new players, the deal was agreed.
O’Leary has signed a two-year contract believed to be worth close to $2 million.
"This is a fantastic opportunity for me," he said. "My ambition is simple here. I just want to win things with Leeds. I’ve learned from some great men like Don Howe, Jack Charlton and George Graham and now I just want to go out and prove myself."
Leeds are currently in 10th place in the Premiership, 9 points behind leaders Aston Villa. Last season, with Graham in charge and O’Leary as his assistant, they finished a highly creditable fifth.
Robbie Keane sidelined
The Republic of Ireland’s teenage sensation, Robbie Keane, has confirmed that he will not be fit for the European championship qualifying game against Yugoslavia on Nov. 18. Keane has recently undergone knee surgery and will miss the match which will be played at a neutral venue due to ongoing military action in the province of Kosovo.
Meanwhile, Cork City’s unbeaten record in soccer’s National League came to an abrupt end when the Premier Division leaders lost 2-0 away to St. Patrick’s Athletic. Two goals by Trevor Molloy gave St. Pat’s a valuable win and moved them to joint top spot with Cork with 24 points from nine games.
McDaid against Creatine
Sports Minister Dr. Jim McDaid has said that Creatine, the controversial food supplement taken by athletes, should be banned. In a move that will spark off much debate in the country’s sporting bodies, McDaid is currently taking legal advice from the attorney general.
"Creatine should be a banned substance," McDaid said last week. "The muscle bulk it provides to those who use it is just not normal. I am consulting the attorney general to see what powers I have and intend to bring forward a motion on Creatine when the Olympic Council of Ireland meets next month."
Widely used in Ireland by track and field athletes and rugby players, Creatine is a widespread performance-enhancing supplement. However, there have been suggestions that it could have long-term side effects such as kidney damage.
A top sports physician has also hit out at the use of Creatine in a recent article. "At best the jury is still out on the safety of his agent," wrote Dr. Conor O’Brien in the Irish Medical Times. "The question must be raised as to why any athlete should expose him or herself to any potential side-effect in the name of sporting excellence."