Tommy Freeman: quiet summer

Sometimes you wonder do the GAA resist making obvious, sensible, basic reforms to its games just so journalists like this one will have something to write about.

The last seven days the same old issues came to the fore again, ones which have had the phonelines hopping for years. But as the GAA are slow learners, we'll go again.

1. Get rid of the square ball rule

This one keeps cropping up. Last weekend in the Dublin-Meath game Conal Keaney was rightly adjudged to have been in the Meath square. The Derry-Monaghan game hinged on a goal from Paddy Bradleys that rightly wasn't disallowed but so easily could have been. Just what purpose does this rule serve, other than give The Sunday Game boys an excuse to play around with their latest technology? Goalies don't need that kind of protection while referees and umpires don't need the hassle.

2. Time to keep time properly

Marty Duffy actually refereed very well last Sunday but the timekeeping malarkey following the stoppage for Mark Davoren's injury overshadowed that fact. National Referees Committee chairman Mick Curley both empathised with Duffy and expressed his approval of any moves to take the function of timekeeping away from the referee but the reform shouldn't stop there.

In virtually every other sport, the clock makes an allowance for substitutions. In soccer they add on 30 seconds for every substitution; in basketball, the clock stops completely. Hurling and football don't have that. Teams deliberately bring on subs at the end not just to break up the opposition's momentum but to take more playing time off the clock. Ten years ago Curley himself refereed the All Ireland final. In a game with at least three minutes of stoppages, Curley only allowed for a minute and a half, and most of that was taken up introducing Tommy Dowd for Evan Kelly.

This, remember, was only a year after the whole unfortunate Jimmy Cooney saga when the Offaly hurlers were granted a replay on the premise that not enough time was played. As it is, more than every second subsequent beaten All Ireland finalist has had grounds for similar complaint. There was Cork in '99 with Curley, Kerry in 2002 against Armagh with John Bannon. In the '03 final we counted nine minutes of stoppages in the second half – including protracted substitutions – yet Brian White only allowed Armagh three minutes to eat into Tyrone's slender lead. In fact that game was so stop-start, the ball was only in play for eight minutes when Peter Canavan was famously rested from half-time up to his reintroduction in the 62nd minute. After last Sunday, Meath plan forwarding a motion to Congress on this issue; while they're at it, we hope they add on that time must also be added on for when subs come on.

3. Match bans not time bans

The fallout from Celtic Park has been almost as poisonous and distasteful as what went on there in the first place, and part of it is because probably the least guilty suspended player, Tommy Freeman, has been left with the longest suspension of the lot. Freeman deserved to be suspended after clashing heads with a Derry player but the contact was minimal and hardly deserving of having his entire summer wiped out (as it surely is, with him missing Monaghan's first three qualifiers). Before, time bans made some sense; on average, teams were only playing one championship game a month. Brian Mullin and Fergal Doherty will miss just one game and play football into July. Freeman will miss three and in all probability, won't play county football again 'til February. He deserved to miss a game, maybe even two. But hardly three.