Sport Hurling

Tuesday 27 June 2017

Managers frustrated by double standards

What's viewed as manly in hurling is often mistaken as cynical in football with the rules of engagement now poles apart

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

There may be a reason why Kieran McGeeney has been allowing his hair to grow longer, one that is much more than a simple fashion statement.

It allows him to grab hold of greater quantities of the stuff and pull harder when the frustration of watching the way Gaelic football continues to be officiated becomes too much.

McGeeney has never been shy in criticising what he (and many others) feel is the ongoing sanitisation of the game.

For his sake then, it is hoped that instead of sitting down to watch last Sunday's Leinster hurling final between Kilkenny and Dublin, he was off doing something much more soothing, like watching his Kildare forwards engage in some shooting practice in Hawkfield.

Because the frustration he regularly experiences, and has vented at recent briefings between refereeing administrators and inter-county managers, had the potential to reach new levels.

Why?

Contrast

Well, a week on from the controversy that surrounded the awarding of a free to Dublin that gift-wrapped them a place in Sunday's Leinster football final, the hurling decider provided perhaps the starkest contrast since the 2009 All-Ireland final that the two codes, though governed along the same principles, within the same parameters, by the same association and essentially following the same set of rules, are looked upon in a completely different light.

It is impossible to imagine that if the same tangle between Andriu MacLochlainn and Bernard Brogan had occurred in the environment of the Leinster hurling final last Sunday, a free would have been awarded.

It would be interesting to read the assessment of Barry Kelly's performance in Sunday's match and see does it reconcile with the way administration wants application of rules to go.

That doesn't happen, of course, because assessment reports remain a private consultation between the referee, the assessor and the administration, aimed at improving delivery of rules on a more consistent basis. That's fair enough.

But anyone coming away from Croke Park on Sunday, having watched a full-blooded and attritional showpiece game it must be said, couldn't avoid the feeling that hurling and Gaelic football are poles apart when it comes to tolerance levels of physicality. Put simply, hurlers seem to get away with more because of a desire to let the game flow and to retain what is deemed an acceptable level of physicality.

What's viewed as manly in hurling is often mistaken as cynical in football.

This may be at odds with the way Brian Cody sees things. For so long now Cody, like McGeeney and others in football, has railed against the way the officiating of the games has been moving. He fears a sanitisation beyond what he feels is reasonable to players and what the crowd expects and wants to see.

His damning riposte against the process of assessment after Kilkenny's 2007 Leinster quarter-final victory over Offaly in Portlaoise served to bring that very process to the forefront much more than it ever had been before. In the aftermath on Sunday, it was a subject he touched briefly on again.

"It's a physical game and they seem to be trying very hard to put a stop to that," Cody quipped. "I certainly hope it continues to be a physical game because it's an outstanding game when it's allowed go ahead with decent challenges in it. If you don't stand up to the physical challenge, you're blown away in hurling."

But he had essentially got the refereeing he champions so much on Sunday, with Kelly's laissez-faire approach suiting all sides. Kelly awarded some 26 frees and dished out 10 yellow cards yet the inescapable feeling was that a lot had been let go.

No one complained. Not when Conal Keaney charged at Henry Shefflin and bowled him over off the ball after Shefflin himself had brought down Maurice O'Brien. Michael Rice caught O'Brien around the neck with a challenge that would, nine times out of 10, have resulted in a red card in football, but here it merited nothing more than yellow.

When Liam Rushe smashed into Richie Power in the first half with a full-frontal challenge it was Power who was penalised for overcarrying the ball. It's a man's game, you see.

For a sustained 10-minute spell after Keaney rushed into Shefflin, the level of engagement rose significantly and that seemed to suit both sides. Frees were at a premium, the crowd loved it. Ultimately, though, it would suit Kilkenny more.

Kelly played his part with his benevolence, a contrast to Michael Wadding's much stricter approach in Dublin's previous game with Galway two weeks earlier.

But the more the championship progresses, the more benevolence we are likely to see. That appeals to the crowds and feeds the adrenalin that so often drives a match.

But where does it leave the footballers, who watch these type of games develop and can only look on with envy at the levels of engagement that so often apply.

For sure there are fundamental differences. Most of the contact in football is with the hand and that creates more grey areas on which to adjudicate. And in recent weeks there have been occasions to show red cards when referees have opted to show yellow instead.

It was the Meath player Anthony Moyles' first thought as he made his way from the epic 2009 All-Ireland final. Exhilarated by what he had seen and marvelling at the intensity of the play and facility by the referee to allow the play to flow, Moyles still couldn't help wondering how two such closely connected games could be so different in the way that they are handled.

After Sunday, the divide appears to remain as great as ever.

Irish Independent

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