Thursday 21 September 2017

Let's cut giant hurleys down to size

Nash method forced action on frees -- now it's time to tackle another ignored rule

Anthony Nash, Cork
Anthony Nash, Cork
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

A reader has raised an interesting point regarding the GAA's intention to act against land-grabbing hitmen who steal metres when taking penalties or close-in frees.

The reader asks: "Does this mean that every goal scored from penalties and close-in frees down through hurling history is suspect, on the basis that it broke the rule which states that the defenders must be 20 metres from the striker?

"How many big games were decided by goals scored from what the GAA now say were illegal circumstances since the takers (or the vast majority of them anyway) had stolen ground between the lift and strike?"

This is all down to Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash and his ground-swallowing action between raising and the striking the ball.

It has always been a feature of penalties/close-in frees as the striker attempted to get as close as possible to the goal before hitting the ball, but, despite clearly breaking the rule, it was ignored by the authorities.

Well, it was until Nash took it a step (literally) further. Most free-takers gain four or five metres but Nash can advance up to six metres between the lift and strike.

This means that, if the goalkeeper and defenders were to adhere to the rule which demands that they be 20 metres away when the free or penalty is taken, they would have to be six metres behind their goal-line for penalties.

Enter an emergency motion from a specialist rules group which will be put to Congress next month. It stipulates that the free-taker must be on, or outside, the 20-metre line when he makes the strike.

Referees will love that! Yet another rule is hoisted on them where it will be extremely difficult to make a clear judgment. Was the striker six inches inside the line when making the final contact with the ball?

Happy days for the 'The Sunday Game' crew as their slow-motion technology shows whether the referee got it right or wrong.

Inevitably, controversies will arise out of an attempt to eradicate an anomaly in the rules.

There's an alternative, but apparently it won't be put to Congress. Why not have penalties taken off the ground in a straight shoot-out with the goalkeeper? That way, there would be no ambiguity about where the ball was struck.

Under current rules, two defenders are allowed to join the goalkeeper on the line. Effectively, the defending side will gain considerably from the proposed change since the striker will be further out.

OFFENDING

This raises another point. It's well-known that goalkeepers use hurleys which are much bigger than what's allowed under rule. Their two defenders usually tool up with the larger hurleys for penalties/close-in frees, handing a further advantage to the offending side.

Yet, despite the obvious evidence that oversized hurleys are being used in direct contravention of rule, they are never checked by match officials.

We're told it would be an unwieldy process and, besides, how could you be sure that hurleys measured in the dressing-room were the ones brought on to the pitch?

The answer is simple. Why not have the umpires measure the goalies' hurleys during the match preliminaries? It would only take a matter of seconds. Besides, if checks were carried out regularly, oversized hurleys would disappear quickly.

Instead, the GAA have a rule in place regarding hurley size, but don't implement it. Why have it at all if it's to be ignored?

It took Nash's ground-eating technique to force action on penalties/close-in frees -- what will it take to prompt the GAA to apply the rule on hurley size?

As for the reader's query on games which were seriously influenced by goals from penalties/frees struck well inside the 20-metre line, some high-profile examples come to mind.

Indeed, it's possible that as many as three All-Ireland finals over the last 22 years were decided in such circumstances.

The most recent was in 2009 when Henry Shefflin goaled from a penalty late on, which put Kilkenny a point up on Tipperary and on their way to the four-in-a-row.

Shefflin is not one of the bigger ground-eaters, but he still gained a few metres. Brendan Cummins got his hurley to the ball, but it cannoned into the net. Would he have saved it if the strike had been made a few metres further out?

Johnny Dooley gained a few crucial steps with the 20-metre free which yielded the goal that ignited Offaly's remarkable comeback against Limerick in the 1994 final.

Two years earlier, DJ Carey, one of the great experts in making ground between lift and strike, scored a crucial goal from a penalty in the first half. It may well have changed the course of a game where Kilkenny went on to beat Cork by four points.

Now, Nash has forced a rule-change, but it's far from straight-forward since the amendment leaves room for controversy. And while that's being considered, oversized hurleys should also be added to the agenda.

British ministry of defence hosts tournament as gibraltar dispute hits GAA on 'the rock'

THE ongoing political dispute between Gibraltar and Spain over their border will see a Gaelic football tournament played in the most unlikely of venues next weekend -- Britain's Ministry of Defence on 'The Rock'.

The local Gibraltar GAA club usually play their matches on pitches across the border in Spain.

However, because of the delays caused by the introduction of border checks, they have decided to hold the tournament on 'home' soil provided by the MOD.

It will involve Seville, Gibraltar and Marbella, who play independently in an Andalucian league but band together to field a team in the Iberian league.

Marbella's Costa Gaels have an Iraqi native as their goalkeeper.

Quartet's McGrath Cup boycott should focus Munster minds

CORK and Kerry will meet for the first time this year when they contest the McGrath Cup final in Mallow on Sunday.

It was always the likely final pairing but the fact remains that the pre-season tournament was seriously devalued by the absence of Clare, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford, whose players refused to play in protest over the manner in which the Munster championship draw was set up to ensure that Kerry and Cork were on opposite sides.

The McGrath Cup went ahead with Cork, Kerry and college teams but it should not be forgotten that the other four counties felt so angry that they were prepared to withdraw to make their perfectly valid point.

Hopefully, that will concentrate the minds of the Munster Council's decision-makers when it comes to reviewing their championship structures. Handing the elite special privileges sure is a strange way of doing business.

Irish Independent

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