Rigney expects fluid rules start under McGrath
WESTMEATH'S James McGrath will be the first referee under the spotlight as attention turns to the implementation of the new hurling rules in the wake of last Sunday's controversial start to the football championship.
Unlike in football, where there was an amendment to the handpass rule at Congress, the regulations which were trialled during the National Hurling League will continue to apply. Inevitably though, there are fears that there will be stricter interpretation as tends to be the norm at the start of championships.
McGrath will take charge of the Laois v Carlow Leinster Hurling Championship first-round tie which will launch the race for the Liam McCarthy Cup in Portlaoise on Saturday evening (7.0).
Laois manager Niall Rigney believes there's always a risk for teams in the early stages of the championship as referees lay down markers for the season, but is happy with McGrath's appointment.
"James is a good referee who works with players and talks to them. Having said that, I'll be telling the lads to make sure they get the handpass right. We don't want a repetition of what happened last Sunday," he said.
The hurling rule demands that "the ball must be released and struck with a definite striking action of the hand." There have been growing concerns in recent seasons at what has been perceived as an increase in throwing of the sliotar with no gap between the hand and ball when the pass is made.
Other rule changes which will be in force for the first time in the championship (although they were trialled in the league) include: penalising a player who takes a puck-out from outside the small rectangle by throwing in the ball on the 20-metre line rather than awarding a '65' to the opposition; insisting that attackers and defenders are outside the 20-metre line and the arc until the ball is actually struck from a penalty.
Laois go into Saturday's game as favourites, having already beaten Carlow in their Division 2 clash last month but Rigney is expecting a backlash.
"We won by six points but Carlow had three lads sent off that day while we had one so it was a strange sort of game. To be honest, four red cards made it look a lot worse than it really was," said Rigney.
Laois finished third in Division 2 and while Rigney was disappointed they didn't reach the final, he admits that they probably weren't quite ready for promotion.
"Obviously, you'll take what you can but we're building something here and we want to get it right," Rigney continues.
"There has been a big change in the attitude towards Laois hurling among players and clubs over the last 15 months. We're making progress and hopefully this time it's built on something solid and will last.
"The target now is to beat Carlow and then have a right go at Dublin in the next round."
Carlow return to the Leinster championship for the first time since 2004, having won the Christy Ring Cup for the past two years.