Loophole calls time on referee discretion
Officials won't be allowed to add extra seconds for deliberate time-wasting or substitutions
The clock/hooter used to control time-keeping in next year's All-Ireland senior hurling and football championships will be open to exploitation, due to a loophole in GAA rules.
No time can be added on at the end of a half for deliberate time-wasting on kick-outs, puck-outs or frees, nor is there any provision under rule for time lost during the introduction of subs. Central Council recently decided that the clock will be stopped for injuries only or for other special circumstances.
The latter includes waiting on a disciplinary issue to be decided where the referee deems it necessary to consult extensively with his officials, in which case he will instruct the time-keeper to stop the clock.
However, the referee will have no power to extend the game to take into account time-wasting on frees/kick-outs/puck-outs or for the introduction of subs.
That was technically the situation up to now but since referees did not have to explain why they extended a game beyond 70 minutes, they could use their discretion and add on time as they saw fit. Many chose to do so when it came to time-keeping.
The penalty for time-wasting on kick-outs/puck-outs is a throw-in on the defending 20-metre line while delaying a free in any part of the pitch results in forfeiture, followed by a throw-in.
That will still apply but time wasted in the incident cannot be added on, since the game will, except in a few circumstances, be over when 35 minutes are reached on the clock and the hooter sounds.
"The clock will be stopped for injuries or any other delay that the referee decides is necessary but under the rules as they stand the punishment for wasting time on a kick-out or free is a throw-in, not time added on at the end," said Fergal McGill, Head of Games in Croke Park.
Nothing can be added at the end of a half to allow for time lost during the introduction of subs and since the number of permitted replacements will increase from five to six per team next year, it could result in the loss of least three minutes (12 subs at 15 seconds each) if the full complement is used.
It means that a team battling to hold on to a lead in the closing minutes can manipulate the use of substitutions to run down the clock. Play may not re-start until the substituted player is off the pitch, a process which can be slowed down, especially if he is on the opposite side of the field.
Skilful use of two or three substitutions could use up to 45 seconds, a significant amount of time in the closing stages of a tight game.
There's also growing concern over the amount of time being taken by goalkeepers on frees in the attacking half of the pitch. That can involve travelling 100 metres or more and since goal-kickers are under no obligation to sprint to the point of action, a considerable amount of time is wasted.
It can be used by a winning team to help run down the clock, yet provided the goalkeeper doesn't walk all the way up to the free, no action may be taken, since the rules don't specify how much time is allowed between the awarding of a free and the actual kick. Only inordinate delays can be penalised at the referee's discretion.
Dublin were the first to regularly deploy a goalkeeper as their long-range free-taker, with Stephen Cluxton proving a most effective marksman in recent seasons. He was Dublin's second highest scorer (0-16) behind Bernard Brogan in six championship outings this year.
Many other counties have followed the Dublin trend, leaving the GAA with a dilemma over how to prevent time being wasted by goalkeepers on long-distance kicking duties.
The clock/hooter will be used in the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups, after which the GAA will draw up precise protocols for the championships (it will not be used in the leagues). However, they cannot make any changes which require a rule change, such as adding on time for delaying kick-outs/puck-outs/frees.
"Sigerson and Fitzgibbon will give us a fair idea how it works in practice, which will be helpful before it's applied in the championships.
"Central Council will look at what needs to be addressed after Sigerson and Fitzgibbon and take it from there," said McGill.
Another area of possible conflict with the clock/hooter is the precise moment at which a game ends. In most cases, it will be straightforward but if a ball is in flight when the hooter sounds, a score will stand if the ball passes between the posts. Also, a scoreable free will be taken if the hooter sounds immediately after the foul has been committed.
However, disputes could arise at the end of a half when a player is in the act of kicking/striking the ball just as the hooter sounds. It will be up to the referee to decide if the ball had left the boot/hurley before the hooter sounded, clearly a very difficult area to adjudicate on in real time.
"There will always be grey areas so all we can do is to bring clarity to as many as possible insofar as it's possible. Hopefully, the experiences gained in Sigerson and Fitzgibbon will be helpful in getting things right for the All-Ireland championships," said McGill.