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Kerry clubs at odds over controversial Parish Rule

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In simple terms, Rule 20 (aka the Parish Rule) states that a player must play for a GAA club in the parish where they live.

It was introduced decades ago as a means of safeguarding smaller clubs; it prevents “ambitious” players from transferring to bigger, more successful teams, thereby ensuring that the smaller teams have enough players to stay alive.

Ironically, over time, the rule began to benefit the larger town clubs. As young country families moved into towns like Killarney for work, their children, in accordance with the Parish Rule and irrespective of their mother or father’s allegiances, had to line out with one of the parish’s three clubs, namely Dr Crokes, Legion or Spa.

The rule appears to be taken more seriously in Kerry than in other counties (notably Dublin and Cork) but even here it has not always been strictly enforced. In some parts of Kerry, neighbouring clubs agree to share a common area (not in line with parish boundaries) from where they can both draw players. Some clubs simply turn a blind eye to the rule altogether. When it boils down to it, a player is unlikely to run into trouble unless there is an objection, which, if it comes, invariably comes from a club in the “new” parish where the child’s family now reside.

One of the most famous cases arose a decade ago when a local couple took matters to the High Court after Firies objected to their two sons lining out for Listry on the basis that the family lived in Firies parish. The fact that the boys attended primary school in Listry and that their home was 1.4 miles away from Listry’s pitch and 7.2 miles away from Farranfore was irrelevant according to the rulebook. The matter was ultimately left to the county convention to decide, and clubs voted 59-23 against giving the O’Sullivans a derogation (i.e. an exemption from the rule).

MAJOR PROBLEM

Now, the issue is becoming a major problem in the Killarney area. With suitable, affordable housing difficult to come by in Killarney town, many young families have decided to settle in satellite parishes like Kilcummin, Fossa and Firies, among others. These parents often have strong personal and familial ties to their own GAA club, and they want their children to follow in their footsteps. However, by the letter of the law, unless the child has represented their town club at under 12 level or above (i.e. if the family relocated after that point), they must line out for the club in their new parish.

The Parish Rule, which was initially brought in to help rural clubs, and then, for a time, helped town clubs, now appears to be benefitting “satellite” clubs more than most.

To the uninitiated, it might not seem like a big deal. The child has a club to play for regardless and surely that’s the most important thing. Some parents do see it that way. But to some dyed-in-the-wool GAA men or women, the thought of their child playing for another club is anathema. There have been instances where the family have said, “it’s our club or no club at all,” and the child has been lost to other sports as a result.

One father who has been confronted with this prospect says the idea of his son lining out in different colours is “upsetting” and “unthinkable”.

“It’s hugely important to me that he plays for my club. The GAA is built on tradition. I played for the club, his family are all involved, and then he’s told he can’t play for the club because of where he lives? Mind-boggling is how I’d describe it.”

There is an even greater concern within Killarney GAA circles that the current trend of losing families to out-migration could eventually lead to a stark new reality; one where there aren’t enough players to sustain all three clubs in the town.

This imagined future isn’t the stuff of science fiction. Current vice-treasurer of Kerry GAA Joe Crowley communicated this very point to local clubs as part of his role as chairman of the parish rule and player registration committee.

It’s a possibility that newly-appointed Dr Crokes chairman Matt O’Neill is fully aware of. Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, he said that the Parish Rule, though good in nature, is causing “difficulties”.

“First of all, I think the Parish Rule is the way to go,” he clarified. “It’s a good rule and as a club we would be in agreement with the full application of it. But it is presenting certain difficulties.

“With rural depopulation, some clubs, particularly in South Kerry, are having difficulties putting underage teams together, which is a pity. [The day after this interview was conducted, it emerged that Valentia Young Islanders were officially looking for a club that would consider an amalgamation at senior level.]

“I think for the likes of Killarney, it’s going to be problematic for the three clubs here in the future because new families are not going to be able to afford to live in the town. It’s already happening. The houses that are coming on the market are going to older people coming here to retire, and people buying for hospitality. Airbnb and things like that. It’s very difficult for young people to buy in the town, and if you don’t have young people living in the town, you’re not going to have children to play with the clubs.

“They’re moving out to the satellite towns and villages and those clubs are picking up a lot of extra young families.

“Killarney is going to find it difficult to service three clubs in the future. That’s the way I see it going.

“It’s going to be a problem down the road, both for rural Ireland and the bigger towns like Killarney. The satellite towns and villages are expanding at a big rate so they’re the beneficiaries of it.”

When it comes to the parents and children involved, O’Neill says it can be hard for them to, effectively, change clubs.

“There are people who can’t live in Killarney so they move slightly outside of town, and they would dearly like their children to play for a Killarney club. Similar situations have happened in Tralee, and the reverse has also happened: people have moved into a larger town looking for work, and they would like their children to play for their home club. There have been a number of cases where derogation has been sought to allow that to happen. The place where the people are living want to hold onto them, and rightly so.

“If there’s somebody who has had a history with the Crokes, for example, and they want the child to play for Crokes, and they have a case, you would like to support them. But the rule is the rule and, at the end of the day, you’ve got to abide by that if you want to play. That’s the game. It can be a bit tough for some people to accept.”

ENFORCED

Meanwhile, the clubs in the satellite parishes rightly say that they are merely asking for a rule to be enforced. Although rival clubs might not be happy about the situation, they seem to fully accept that the likes of Fossa, Firies and Kilcummin, for example, are well within their rights to flag players who might be playing for the “wrong” team.

Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, Fossa secretary Merry Talbot accepted that objections pertaining to the Parish Rule were causing conflict between local clubs, but he added that “Fossa aren’t breaking the rules”.

“This isn’t a rule that Fossa dreamed up. It was brought in as a mechanism to preserve and protect the community spirit of the GAA. Is it the best mechanism? We don’t know. Does it suit everybody? Of course it doesn’t. But it is a mechanism to do that. You would imagine that the smaller club would lose out if it was removed.

“There are people who say the Parish Rule is outdated but give us another mechanism to protect the smaller clubs, something that will stop the better players migrating to the bigger clubs.

“There have been motions to change it or get rid of it and, each year, it’s defeated. The rural clubs would be very much in favour of it. For Fossa, it’s important to try and maintain the Parish Rule. That’s the view the club takes.

“Fossa is bordering Killarney town, which has a couple of big clubs. If there was no Parish Rule and you [an outsider] moved to Fossa and were looking to get your son playing – maybe you were a good footballer yourself – it might sway your decision [to join a bigger club].

“Fossa have many players who are living in other parishes and their kids have to play with those other clubs. It works both ways.

“70% of our membership are non-native, coming from other parts of the county or other counties. If we didn’t protect the club [by using the Parish Rule], would there be many of them playing in town? You’d have to wonder.”

Local club officers seem to agree on one thing (if nothing else): finding a resolution that will satisfy everyone is impossible.

One prospective path forward that has been suggested in the past, and one that appears to be favoured by the town clubs, is a relaxation of the current rule that would allow children to play for the club of their mother or father. This rule has technically been okayed by Croke Park but it must be passed at county convention before coming into effect here in Kerry. However, when Dromid Pearses, a small, rural club in South Kerry, tabled this motion in 2018, it was soundly defeated.

The fact that it was Dromid and not, say, Austin Stacks or Dr Crokes, who put forward this amendment seems to indicate that smaller clubs might be agreeable to a “parent rule” as it could lead to the children of former players coming home, as it were, to the clubs of their forefathers.

The problem lies in getting it passed at county convention by club delegates who have a reputation for favouring tradition over innovation. After a club forum in 2017, Kerry GAA chairman Tim Murphy stated that the Parish Rule is “sacrosanct for clubs and they want it to stay”, although he also said that perhaps it could be tweaked if doing so would benefit small clubs.

Meanwhile, clubs in satellite parishes, who are currently experiencing a boom-time after many years in the shade of their more illustrious neighbours, will rail against any changes whatsoever. And why wouldn’t they?

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Eamonn Fitzgerald: Keane should know 11 of his 15 starters

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Kerry manager Peter Keane speaking with David Moran after the Super 8s match against Mayo in 2019. Pic: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile.

As Kerry ramp up towards the championship, Eamonn Fitzgerald gives his assessment of their preparations to date.

One certainly learns more from defeat that from victory, so what has Peter Keane and his management team learned from the 2020 debacle?

In fairness to the Kerry management, they have opened up the panel, brought some new players into the fold. They will bring them along hoping they will be in contention for places in the resurrection, which occurs when they start the 2021 championship campaign with a home game versus Clare in the Fitzgerald Stadium.

Tomorrow, Kerry will meet Tyrone in the NFL semi-final. Their league title is at stake. Too many supporters give them no credit for winning the 2020 National League.

If Kerry win and Dublin win as expected, there won’t be a league final and it will be a shared title. That is disappointing for the players. The GAA should have done better and ensured they a final had to be played.

IDEAL PREPARATION

Peter Keane and the Kerry players have had the ideal preparation for the championship. Three competitive league games so far and one more tomorrow. The Kerry selectors used the matches wisely, trying out as many players as possible to see which combination will deliver success.

Injuries forced their hands for all games and some established players were rested. That gave game time to so many players.

That huge win over Galway in Tralee was a great morale booster. They ran up a big score, inflicting a 22-point defeat on Galway, the worst ever margin of defeat for the Westerners. It was magical stuff, Kerry going at them from the throw-in and imposing their game on hapless Galway.

In my report I said that one swallow does not make a summer, but that one swallow was most welcome and hopefully the rest of the flight would follow to make a summer of delight in Kerry.

The eagerly awaited clash with the Dubs did not disappoint. Kerry were like the proverbial curate’s egg, good and bad in patches. Leaking three early goals was ominous. Had we learned anything about basic defending?

Dublin went seven points clear and looked odds-on to make it a 10-point win, but Kerry responded magnificently hitting six unanswered points. It looked all up when Dublin converted a late penalty, but David Clifford came to the rescue in the dying minutes of the game to snatch a draw. Lessons to be learned against the top opposition. Kerry forwards are very good, but the defence is still the Achilles heel.

Roscommon proved as tough as ever, but Kerry competed well. Still that goal leakage at the back was a worry. Diarmuid O’Connor improved steadily and will start at midfield v Clare.

Tomorrow’s very competitive match v Tyrone will tell us more.

STARTING 15

I expect at this stage Peter Keane and his selectors have 11 positions filled to start v Clare. They haven’t a surplus of class players and injuries will deprive them of a full hand.

I’ve still to see the Peter Keane gameplan, his stamp on this team. Every manager in any team sport wishes his/her team to play in a certain matter. The defensive tactics in Cork failed. Thankfully, that has changed in the three league games of 2021 and that is encouraging.

The ball is going in much quicker and sooner so that the inside forwards are brought into play. They score freely and once you get the ball inside 50 metres defenders are quite likely to foul. With Seán O’Shea that’s a pointed free in most cases.

I’m not suggesting that the Kerry defenders should send the ball anywhere out of their way. Leave that to supporters of Charlton. Get it out long and accurate setting up an attack, instead of lateral passing and not progressing.

I expect that the Kerry selectors have pencilled in 11 places and the discussion really is for the remaining starting four. They will also will be very mindful of seven other subs. The starting 15 will not be the 15 that will finish. Such is the intensity of the modern game.

DEFENCE

Shane Ryan has been out injured for this league and must be doubtful for the early stages of the championship. Kieran Fitzgibbon has been catapulted into goalkeeping duties and he has performed quite well, especially playing behind a much-maligned defence.

The goalkeeper is just not alone a ball stopper, but he is called into play once the opposition start moving out the ball from the other end of the field. He can see possible developments long before his defenders do. He can see the runner, gaps opening and real danger, before defender do. They are too taken up with marking their own men. The keeper is the eyes and ears of the defenders and must be sure and vocal. It will take time for him to assert his authority and the same goes for the kick-outs. Understandably, he hasn’t always succeeded in picking out a fellow player, be it short or long. That will come. Even Cluxton had to learn.

The defence has been much-maligned and leaking so many goals substantiates that argument. In their defence they are often at sixes and sevens with extra men galloping through, because other players let their men sally up field unmarked. However, I cannot understand why this sextet – and it could be any six – do not realise that their first duty is to mark their own men. Too often they stand off their opponents and gift them the initiative.

These are elite players who have been coached in the art of defence in their own clubs since they were juveniles. Too often, some but not all, do not seem to understand that there really is no defined tackle in Gaelic football, but you can get in close. Use your hands strategically and prevent the attacker scoring or laying it off to a fellow player. That’s all legitimate and there is no need to concede a free. I could name several players at club level who operate this defensive tactic so successfully. Great Kerry backs of the past did it. I think of players such as Paudie Lynch and Mike McCarthy.

The present Kerry defenders are plenty fit enough. They need to be near their direct opponents and be pro-active instead of being reactive. Rarely is there need for a long inaccurate clearance. A hand pass, or preferably an accurate punt kick will set the Kerry forwards in motion.

The Kerry full back line should not be drawn 50 yards from goal and certainly not sprinting out as a link man into the opposition’s territory. How often have we seen it by some of these defenders? Mind the house, don’t leave the goalkeeper exposed and the goal leakage will dry up, or curtailed at worst.

I also feel that Gavin Crowley should not be lured into up field sallies. He has a very onerous job. He must mind his man and also mark space. Tim Kennelly and Mick Morris before him were not classy players but were highly effective centre-backs. No yawning gaps to allow Brian Fenton, Eoin Murchan, or Jack McCaffrey exploit this this tempting mortal sin.

Primary duty for wing backs Paul Murphy and Gavin White is to mark their own man and when the two or three opportunities arise in the game they have the explosive pace to go up field to score or assist in a score. If that run breaks down it is not as serious, as if it happened to a centre back exposing the middle for those Dublin invaders.

MIDFIELD

Midfield has been a problem area for Kerry. David Moran has given Kerry great service over many years, but I contend that he should not be on the starting 15. He may well be on the finishing 15.

I like Diarmuid O’Connor. Big, strong, mobile, well able to score when the opportunity arises, he has a great engine and has youth on his side. Who should partner him?

Jack Barry is in the frame to start, but not Tommy Walsh.

I also expect Kerry to have a Plan B. My preference is to include Seán O’Shea and Paudie Clifford in the half-forward line, one of them centrally and both tasked with helping out at midfield. The older Clifford is mobile, brave and eager and could do a very effective smash and grab possession ploy. He should start. Now he is more even-tempered than he has been in the past. He can open a defence route one and knows when to deliver to the full forward line. I feel that we can get more out of Seán O’Shea.

I hope Peter Keane doesn’t fall back on the Cork gambit where the half-forward line’s role was to go back to their own half-back line helping out. Tracking back is important, but that last-ditch ploy inevitably draws out the inside forward line. Wouldn’t David Clifford’s marker love to see him 70 yards from goal? Even Kerry’s jewel will not score from that position. Again, send in the ball quickly to Kerry’s best scorers, Clifford and whoever is with him. Paul Geaney, Paudie Clifford, Tony Brosnan and Killian Spillane are in the frame to score.

You can have all the fitness in the world, elaborate game plans and astute use of the bench, but those ingredients alone will not propel Kerry forward in a realistic bid for Sam 2021. Pride in the geansaí will oil the winning machine.

Over to you the present Kerry players, whichever 15 starts v Clare, then Tipperary followed by Cork. Bryan McMahon the former Kerry player and songster was spot on with the importance of dúchas and tradition.

“You cannot box or bottle it, nor grasp it in your hand,
But pride of race and love of place inspire a love of land
.”

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Tom O’Sullivan and Tony Brosnan start as Keane makes raft of changes

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Tom O'Sullivan, Peter Keane and Tony Brosnan. Pics: Sportsfile.

Dingle defender Tom O’Sullivan and Dr Crokes sharpshooter Tony Brosnan have been named in a much-changed starting line-up for Kerry’s National League Round 3 match against Roscommon.

The pair had missed out on Kerry’s first two matchday squads of the season but they look set to feature from the off in Dr Hyde Park on Sunday. The game will be shown live on the TG4 Player (throw-in 3.45pm) with deferred coverage on TG4 at 5.35pm.

O’Sullivan is joined in the full back line by his namesake, Graham O’Sullivan, and Jason Foley, who moves from No. 2 to No. 3. Regular full back Tadhg Morley drops to the bench.

The versatile Brian Ó Beaglaoich will line out at half back alongside centre back Gavin Crowley and there will be a first start on the other wing for Mike Breen of Beaufort. First choice wing backs Paul Murphy and Gavin White are listed as substitutes.

David Moran and Diarmuid O’Connor retain their spots at midfield as Jack Barry misses out on the 26 for the second week in a row.

Stephen O’Brien gets his first start of the year at right half forward with Ronan Buckley of Listry on the 40 and Paul Geaney at 12 for the third consecutive fixture. Seán O’Shea is named amongst the subs.

There is no place on the panel for Killian Spillane as the Clifford brothers, David and Paudie, are joined in the full forward line by Brosnan. David will captain the side in Paul Murphy’s stead.

As expected, Kieran Fitzgibbon holds on to the No. 1 jersey. Eoghan O’Brien of Churchill has been drafted into the extended panel to provide extra cover in the absence of the injured Shane Ryan, but goalkeeping coach Brendan Kealy continues to deputise as sub keeper.

Liam Kearney of Spa makes his first matchday squad of the campaign.

Roscommon, meanwhile, are expected to name their team tomorrow. Listowel native Conor Cox, who made seven appearances for Kerry before transferring to the Rossies in 2019, was a 50th-minute substitute in both of their matches to date.

Following those defeats to Dublin and Galway, Anthony Cunningham’s side will be facing into a relegation playoff semi-final whatever the outcome of Sunday’s match.

Kerry can mathematically join them in the bottom two but Peter Keane’s men would need to lose by at least 14 points and Galway would also need to beat Dublin.

Kerry team to face Roscommon

1. Kieran Fitzgibbon (Kenmare Shamrocks)

2. Graham O’Sullivan (Dromid Pearses)

3. Jason Foley (Ballydonoghue)

4. Tom O’Sullivan (Dingle)

5. Brian Ó Beaglaoich (An Ghaeltacht)

6. Gavin Crowley (Templenoe)

7. Mike Breen (Beaufort)

8. David Moran (Kerin’s O’Rahilly’s)

9. Diarmuid O’Connor (Na Gaeil)

10. Stephen O’Brien (Kenmare Shamrocks)

11. Ronan Buckley (Listry)

12. Paul Geaney (Dingle)

13. David Clifford (Fossa)

14. Tony Brosnan (Dr Crokes)

15. Paudie Clifford (Fossa)

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Adam Moynihan: So many GAA rules need tidying up

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Seán O'Shea evades the challenges of Brian Fenton and John Small. Pic: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Is there a sport in the world that alters its rulebook more frequently than Gaelic football? Every year when the first ball is thrown in, we’re left scratching our heads, frantically googling “GAA rule changes”, trying to come to terms with the latest updates to our playing protocol.

The changes to the advantage rule are causing consternation at the moment but the irony is that the game already has a number of laws that are either vague or poorly enforced. Below are just a few that come mind.

Surely it would make sense to iron these out before we even think about introducing further amendments.

1. Advanced mark. At its best (I would say less than 10% of the time), the advanced mark is a decent rule that rewards long-kicking and catches close to the goal. At its worst (the remaining 90% of the time), it’s a stupid rule that rewards nothing skills like short-kicking and unchallenged chest-catches. Plus, it abruptly stops the play for no good reason.

Of all the rule changes in recent years, it possibly holds the title of ‘most hated’. It simply has to go.

2. The tackle. You can only use one hand, but sometimes that’s a foul. You can only use an open hand, but sometimes that’s a foul. You can’t pull an opponent, but sometimes you can. You can’t push an opponent, but sometimes you can. What is a Gaelic football tackle? It’s so vague and open to interpretation. From game to game and even from tackle to tackle, you never really know what’s going to be foul and what isn’t.

It’s a difficult one for rule-makers to sort out but it’s not going to sort itself out, that’s for sure.

3. Booking both players when there’s a wrestling match. The ball is coming up the field. As the play approaches, a corner forward and a corner back become entangled and end up rolling around on the ground. Who do you think initiated that contact? Who has something to gain from that wrestling match? It’s almost always the defender. Is the forward supposed to go limp and play dead like they’re being attacked by a grizzly bear?

They have to stand up for themselves, and they shouldn’t be booked for doing so.

4. Feigning injury. The law states that attempting “to achieve an advantage by feigning a foul or injury” is a bookable offence. While the “foul” part can be tricky to spot on the fly, the latter half of the rule is generally far more black and white. Thankfully, players flopping to the ground and holding their faces when they’ve barely been touched is less prevalent in Gaelic football than it is in other sports, but it does happen. Yet how many yellow cards have been brandished for this infraction?

The shame of getting booked for playacting would be a huge deterrent and help stamp this behaviour out for good. It should be punished to the letter of the law.

5. Moving frees too far forward for dissent/impeding the kick. When a free is awarded, the penalty for dissent or impeding/slowing down the taking of the free is 13 metres. How many times have we seen an over-zealous referee bring the ball forward 20 metres or more?

I recall playing a minor game for Legion out in Rathmore. I committed a foul outside of our 65-metre line. For questioning the call, the ref carried the ball forward well inside our 45. For questioning the distance, he brought it in – and this isn’t a joke or an exaggeration – to the 13-metre line. That’s roughly 55 metres of a penalty instead of 26.

That’s an extreme example, granted, but even a five-metre bonus out the field could change the course of a match.

6. Hop balls. From the throw-in at the start of each half, every player bar the four midfielders is meant to be inside the two 45-metre lines. A metre or two encroachment here or there isn’t the end of the world, but in the 2019 All-Ireland final we saw what happens when the rule isn’t properly enforced. At the beginning of the second half, there were two extra players within the 65s by the time David Moran touched the ball down. Another six were just about to enter. One of those six, Eoin Murchan, gathered possession and scored a season-defining goal.

If a rugby or soccer player got away with being 20 metres offside from a kick-off, the referee would be demoted to the lower leagues in a flash.

Hop balls during open play are even messier. The players not contesting should be 13 metres away from the referee. The most you’d normally get is five, and that’s if the referee makes a big song and dance about it. By the time the ball reaches its apex there is invariably a sea of bodies awaiting its return to earth, and the resulting maul is anything but pretty.

Allowing the two nominated players to properly compete for the hop ball would lead to a greater possibility of clean possession, and some football as opposed to a spot of rugby.

7. Steps. Speaking of that Eoin Murchan goal… (No, I will not let it go.) The manner in which players travel with the ball is one of the most fundamental aspects of Gaelic football, yet it is arguably the least properly policed. Four steps is the rule. Four steps before you have to release the ball or hop or solo. But, of course, the inside joke is that it’s not four, is it? Not really. Sometimes five is okay. Sometimes six. You’d get away with seven. Maybe eight. Possibly nine. Ten? Ten is taking liberties. But yes, you could feasibly get away with ten as well.

Stringently enforcing this particular law might seem like a potential nightmare because players are so used to getting away with five or more steps. It would certainly prove contentious at the beginning, but everyone would adjust.

As it stands, it’s just another half-enforced rule that makes you wonder why they bothered writing it down in the first place.

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