Is Gaelic football refereed more strictly than hurling?
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Donnchadh Boyle and Martin Breheny debate one of the key distinctions between our national games.
Donnchadh Boyle says YES
Simply put, it's a cultural thing. Hurling and football are governed by the same body, largely by the same regulations and played by some of the same players – but the comparisons end there.
Look out for offences that are common to both games. The likes of frontal charges and high tackles are the same in both codes and in theory carry the same penalty. In hurling they are called back only if completely necessary, but offenders get at least bookings in football.
Players, referees and fans want to let hurling 'flow', a euphemism for as little interference from the referee as possible – officials are often little more than time-keepers. It's an approach that passes little regard of the rule book but it also contributes to making hurling the most engaging sport going when at its best.
Football doesn't enjoy the same leeway when it arguably needs it now more than ever. Games between the top teams are being diminished as a spectacle in favour of rugby league-style encounters, where risk is reduced regardless of possible rewards.
Hard running and denying opposition time seem to be as important as the ability to kick a 30-metre pass. As Sean Cavanagh put it before Tyrone's clash with Donegal, "making tackles is going to be more important than kicking points."
There are several reasons why hurling is treated differently. It moves much quicker, meaning rucks are less likely to form. Frees are also much more of a penalty. A decision to award a free even on the wrong side of midfield can lead to a score. With more at stake, refs are less likely to whistle.
Another major issue is the tackle in football. In the rule book it's officially defined as 'any attempt to dispossess or reduce the advantage of opponent within the Rules of Fair Play. With the exception of the charge (fair), the tackle is aimed at the ball not the player.'
But how that applies in practice is open to much interpretation. Kieran McGeeney and Eamonn O'Hara have highlighted this issue but referees seem to err on the side of caution in football, while in hurling, the benefit of the doubt is given and play runs on.
The cover-all term when it comes to refereeing is "common sense", which is so subjective and open to interpretation it offers no clarity.
Football is divided on the best way forward but the adaptation of the black card shows it is looking inward at least.
Hurling hasn't the same introspection but doesn't need it. But there was a watershed moment recently when Michael Duignan called into question Wexford's tactics against Dublin on 'The Sunday Game'.
There was a major reaction but not only because Duignan highlighted some very unsavoury incidents, but because a hurling analyst criticised hurling in such a way.
It's hard to remember another hurling analyst decrying his own game in such a fashion whereas when the football pundits take over, pot shots are almost a weekly event.
In hurling, that just isn't in the culture, and the majority of footballers look on in envy.
Martin Breheny says NO
Hurling is refereed differently to, not more strictly than, football for the very simple reason that it's a different game.
That's where the confusion arises, encouraged it must be said by some of football's whining classes who are trying to cause a division on the matter. They complain that footballers are booked and/or sent off for offences that might not even yield a free in hurling and query why two sports, that are administered under the same disciplinary rules, appear to run on different tracks.
The reality is that football only has itself to blame for the situation. Off-the-ball fouling, cheating, incorrect tackling and various other destructive influences have become quite common in football. Indeed, there are reasonable grounds for believing that negativity is frequently used as a deliberate tactical ploy.
In those circumstances, it's scarcely surprising that the disciplinary mechanism has become increasingly vigilant in football. The argument that physicality is being removed from football via legislation ignores the fact that a player is entitled to shoulder an opponent with full force provided it's done properly.
However, it's quite common for a player to shoulder an opponent into either the chest or back (which is illegal), yet when a free is awarded against him he complains that it was a fair challenge.
Indeed, he will often point to his shoulder with a theatrical flourish as if to say: "Fair shoulder, ref." No it wasn't because the rules state it must be a side-to-side challenge, with one foot on the ground.
Greater physicality is allowed in hurling, essentially because it's executed more fairly than in football. Since a player has at least one hand – and frequently two – in use on his hurley, the scope for nefarious deeds (other than striking with the hurley) is far less than in football. Striking with the hurley is a clearly visible offence and not even the most blinkered football mind would argue that it goes unpunished.
It's unfortunate that a perception is growing that footballers are being refereed more strictly than hurlers because it carries the risk that the small-ball brigade will have a system that works well contaminated by outside influence.
If football people believe that their game is being refereed too harshly then they have every right to lobby for change. However, it's wrong to make their case by pointing an accusing finger at hurling.
So what do they really want? Their game to be refereed more leniently or hurling to be punished for sins that originated in football?
There are some hurling referees who are so intent on letting play flow that the whistle appears to be a nuisance but, in general, a good balance is struck between proper rule-application and common sense.
The opposite tends to be the case in football where players are sometimes penalised for trivial infringements. Again, that's a football problem. Go sort it out but don't try to corrupt hurling by claiming it's a lawless world where the sheriffs won't act.