GAA set to stop hurling penalty-takers moving inside 20-metre line
A clampdown on hurling hotshots advancing well inside the 20-metre line before striking the ball for penalties and frees is almost certain to be in force for this year's championships as the GAA moves to clear up an anomaly which has been exploited for years.
A tougher line is also to be taken with hurlers who deliberately interfere with opponents' helmets. They will face an automatic red card under a proposal which will be put to GAA Congress next month.
It has been a yellow card offence up to now, but will be upgraded to red following advice from the GAA's medical experts, coupled with the need to outlaw an irritating addition to the foul family.
However, it's the proposed change in the 20-metre rule which will attract most attention.
The anomaly, which has always applied, became especially noticeable last year when Cork goalkeeper, Anthony Nash perfected the art of tossing the ball several metres in front of him before striking. It often resulted in him being close to the 13-metre line when making contact with the ball.
Defenders are required to stay on the goal line, which automatically led to an anomaly, since they are supposed to be 20-metres from the striker.
The National Referees' Committee brought the matter to Croke Park, leading to the intervention of the Playing Rules' Standing Committee, which is proposing penalties and frees be struck from the 20-metre line, with no allowances for lifting the ball.
That will force the striker to place the ball further out in order to ensure that he is no closer than 20 metres when making the hit. Up to now, he was allowed to lift the ball on the 20-metre line and advance before striking.
"The anomaly was there for all to see. 'Keepers and defenders couldn't be 20 metres away when the ball was struck, once the taker had tossed the ball forward from the 20-metre line," said Pat Daly, GAA director of games development.
"It's now proposed to state clearly that the ball can be no closer than 20 metres from the goal-line when it's struck. It will be up to the striker to decide how much further out he wants to place the ball in order to get momentum from tossing it forward but the strike must be made no closer than the 20-metre line," said Daly.
He said that consideration was given to reducing the permitted number of defending players from three to two but it was decided not to proceed with it.
"Let's see how the new rule works out if it's approved by Congress. It's always possible to change a rule if it's seen to be defective in some way or to cause too much of an advantage or disadvantage in a certain situation.
"The immediate priority is to clear up the anomaly regarding where the ball is struck from in penalties and 20-metre frees."
The tougher approach to players who interfere with opponents' helmets has medical as well as fair-play concerns. Since it became compulsory for all players to wear helmets, deliberate interference has increased.
"It usually takes the form of a player grabbing an opponent's helmet, either in an act of aggression or provocation. It was a yellow-card offence up to now but is likely to be upgraded to red by Congress.
"There are medical concerns involved here since it can be very dangerous to pull an opponent's helmet. The threat of a red card should act as a real deterrent," said Daly.
Historically, changes to the playing rules could only be considered every five years (next due in 2015) but the GAA decided two years ago to amend the system so that a special committee could propose amendments if they felt it was sufficiently urgent.
They are now acting on the 20-metre anomaly and helmet interference, both of which will come before Congress at Croke Park on February 22.
If accepted, the changes will be eligible to come into effect a month later although they may be delayed until the start of the provincial championships.