Rule anomaly will allow frees to be hit from as close as 14 metres
A glaring anomaly in the rule change which the GAA is rushing through before this weekend's hurling championship games will leave goalkeepers and defenders still facing frees hit from as close as 14 metres.
Croke Park has legislated specifically for penalties and 20-metre frees only, but makes no reference to frees from further out. That allows players who are taking frees from outside the 20-metre line to toss the ball forward before making the strike.
And, since an increasing number of free-takers are capable of gaining anything up to seven metres between lifting and striking, it means that frees awarded in 21-25 metre range will be actually struck from 14-18 metres after the ball has been tossed forward.
The new rule on penalties and 20-metre frees requires the taker to move the ball back a maximum of seven metres. He can gain those metres between lifting and striking but cannot be inside the 20-metre line at point of impact.
The goalkeeper/defenders must remain on the goal line until the ball has been struck.
Those emergency regulations will remain in place until next year's Congress, when proposals to formalise free-taking rules will be considered.
The proposals to amend the penalty/20-metre free rules arose from last Sunday's Cork versus Waterford Munster championship game, which had a bizarre incident when rival goalkeepers Anthony Nash and Stephen O'Keeffe, who dashed off his line, were close to each other when the former hit a free.
That will no longer occur for penalties or 20-metre frees but, under the new rule as worded, there is nothing to stop the striker from gaining as much ground as his talents allow from frees anywhere outside the 20-metre line.
That could have been avoided by inserting a clause stating that no free could be hit from inside the 20-metre line in any circumstances.
Reaction to the GAA's decision to act on the penalty/20-metre free controversy has been largely favourable, although there are fears that it may encourage cynical fouling on the basis that the odds against conceding a goal have lengthened.
Wexford manager Liam Dunne suggested that if the new rule is to be applied on a permanent basis, the number of defending players allowed on the goal line should be reduced from three to two.
"The balance shouldn't go so much in favour of the defending team," he said.
"Several metres were always gained on penalties and 20-metre frees but now there will be more ground between the taker and the goalkeeper and his two defenders, which increases the chance of the ball being stopped.
"Cutting it down to two on the line would restore the balance."
Dunne favours action being taken to prevent strikers being no more than 13 or 14 metres from the goal line when making the hit.
"It can be dangerous to be honest," he said. "Even in training, the lads on the line are in danger. Willie Devereux got a terrible belt to the chest from a shot by Jack Guiney in our training the other night.
"The modern-day ball travels much quicker than the older ones and the top free-takers are hitting them harder than ever so there is an element of danger involved."