Byline: by MICHEAL CLIFFORD
TWELVE months after there was a purge on its proper execution, the hand pass is back dominating the earlyseason football agenda. The statistical breakdown of Sunday's preliminary round Donegal versus Antrim Ulster SFC clash reveals that it was a game of its time, one where possession is king and the protection of defence is paramount.
It has already been rubbished as one of the worst games in recent years, but such notoriety is likely to be short-lived given that there will always be another one coming along to take its place. And the main findings of the post-mortem, in what was a beast of a contest, will hardly shock, apart from one stat. Despite the fact that 250 hand passes were executed in the course of the game, referee Maurice Deegan blew for just one foul hand pass -- on Donegal's Karl Lacey in the 10th minute. This suggests that either players are comfortable with the execution of the redefined hand-pass or simply that the heat on policing it has cooled.
The likelihood is that it is the latter, but the attempt to redefine the hand pass in the experimental playing rules -- the bulk of which were rejected at Congress last year -- was less about technique and more about the vague hope that it would restrict its use.
Furthermore, it is not the hand pass itself that is seen as the stain on the game, but the fact that its over-use facilitates the ultradefensive game-plans which more and more teams, both at inter-county and club level, have now signed up to. After Sunday's defeat, Antrim manager liam 'Baker' Bradley laid down a challenge to the GAA, to tackle the issue with the rule-book curtailing the number of consecutive hand passes to three as an option to rid the game of mass defence.
It may yet see the light of day as an experimental rule, but it is a road that the GAA might be slow to go down for a number of reasons, not least because of the …