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Keaveney: If high fielding isn't protected, it will kill the game

Gaelic football great has called for immediate rule changes to reduce hand-passing and make the game more attractive to watch.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

DUBLIN LEGEND JIMMY Keaveney believes that if the art of fielding is allowed to die, Gaelic football will perish too.

He feels that the ‘mark’ proposal would be a great addition to the rulebook but wouldn’t stop there. He has called for immediate action to reduce the number of handpasses in the game, before it is too late.

“If they do away with the high fielding in the middle of the field it’s going to kill the game,” the three-time All-Ireland winner told the42.

“I think the mark is a good idea. High fielding of the ball is a fantastic skill and it has to be protected.

“One of the highlights of Gaelic football was seeing fellas like Des Foley (Dublin), Jim McKeever (Derry) and Brian Mullins (Dublin) going up and catching the high ball.

“I think it’s a fabulous skill and a fabulous view of Gaelic football. When anybody sees it, anybody who is not used to the game, they think it’s wonderful.”

He has become frustrated with the direction Gaelic football has gone; with the focus on short-passing, defensive structures and the retention of possession.

“But now every ball that comes into the middle of the field is a short pass from the full-back line or half-back line.

“I would definitely cut down on the handpassing and I think that after anyone kicks the ball wide or gets a score, the ball should have to be kicked back over the 45-yard line from the kickout.

“The handpass is overdone. I think you should be allowed two handpasses and then you have to kick the ball, otherwise the referee calls for a hop ball.

“Midfield is so important, it’s the heartbeat of any team. And now they are bypassing the midfield with these short kick-outs which I think looks horrible. They [GAA] are going to have to do something very quickly.”

Current crop of Dubs

Keaveney was a key figure in ‘Heffo’s Army’ of the 1970s, who won three All-Irelands in four years following an 11-year drought.

In terms of statistics, the comparison is uncanny with Jim Gavin’s current crop of Dubs, who have won three All-Ireland’s in five years, ending a 16-year wait in 2011.

But with age on their side Keaveney expects Gavin’s charges to be at the top of the pyramid for a while yet.

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“I’d expect that team to make four or five All-Ireland finals, in and around there.

“And there are still young kids coming through in Dublin who can probably make the breakthrough in the next year or the year after that.

“They have a great manager in Jim Gavin and he’s the ideal man to bring them forward and I’m looking forward to the next three or four years.”

Favourite player

While he may be critical of the direction the game has gone, he still loves to watch it, and is still involved in fundraising initiatives in his club, St Vincent’s.

Asked which footballer he most enjoys watching these days, he doesn’t hesitate – it’s fellow Vincent’s man Diarmuid Connolly.

Bob Dwan tackles Diarmuid Connolly Diarmuid Connolly, of St Vincent's, takes on Ballyboden's Bob Dwan during this year's Dublin senior championship final. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“My favourite player is Diarmuid Connolly.

“Diarmuid has two great feet, he’s a great thinker of the game and he’s just something special and I love going to watch him play.”

Club championships

After successive years as Dublin champions, and All-Ireland winners in 2014, Vincent’s were surprisingly beaten by Ballyboden St Enda’s in this year’s county final.

And while he believes southside club, who face Portlaoise in the Leinster decider early next month, have the potential to go far, he sees major obstacles for Ballyboden in the form of traditional powerhouses Crossmaglen Rangers, of Armagh, and Cork’s Nemo Rangers.

“They (Ballyboden) could go all the way. They have done well in Leinster so far anyway but then you have teams like Nemo Rangers and Crossmaglen Rangers who are specialists in the All-Ireland club championship. But I’d wish Ballyboden the best of luck.”

*Jimmy Keaveney spoke to promoting Kevin Heffernan: Wrapped up in Blue,’ which is available to buy for €14.99 from Golden Discs HMV, Xtravision, Easons and Tower Records stores nationwide and online today.

The42 will have a couple of copies of the DVD to give away in coming days, stay tuned.

About the author:

Alan Waldron

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