Saturday 16 December 2017

Vincent Hogan: 'Nash rule' punishes player for being too good

Anthony Nash was lethal from close-range frees and penalties last year
Anthony Nash was lethal from close-range frees and penalties last year
Shane Long will hope to make a fast start at his new club, Hull City
Liverpool's Northern Irish manager Brendan Rodgers
Maria Sharapova cools off during a break in her second round match against Karin Knapp at the 2014 Australian Open
Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle during Day One of the WRC Monte-Carlo
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

So one month to the National Hurling League and Anthony Nash must be beginning to feel as conspicuous as an outlaw on the run.

The best goalkeeper in the game has, literally, triggered an emergency. Nash strikes a ball with such venom, he inspires the dread of missiles descending on a town. So Congress will next month consider a motion designed, essentially, to stop him.

In theory, the move is franked by safety concerns for anyone struck in the wrong part of their anatomy by a sliotar travelling almost at the speed of a bullet.

But Nash alone is the worry. Face it, nobody else in hurling has taken the art of lift and strike into the realm of military hardware. There is a broad acceptance now that, when facing a Cork penalty or a 20-metre free, it is inadvisable to stand on the line in anything less than a carbon fibre suit.

Thus, this emergency motion is about Anthony Nash, period. The rest of hurling is just an audience.

Imagine how that makes him feel. The way Nash strikes a ball should really be revered, but, in hurling, it makes him oddly subversive. So he hears his name being dropped into conversations as if he's someone who needs to be frisked for explosives on exiting a dressing-room.

And he knows, deep down, that Congress will now do what the Nash emergency demands. That is solve one problem by creating another.

DJ Carey was right this week in his summation of what the change will mean. Policing the strike-zone will not just tilt the balance away from free-takers, it will toss the arithmetic on its head.

From a rigidly-enforced 20-metre distance, even Nash would struggle to pierce a crowded goal-line. And just about every other free-taker alive won't even bother trying.

And, if the concession of a 20-metre free suddenly threatens only the likely leakage of a point, what then is the deterrent for a full-back line?

Next month's motion, clearly, needs to have broader parameters. Change the rules for the taker and, in the interest of fairness, you must surely also change the rules for those defending.

Donal Og Cusack has already intimated that most goalkeepers would prefer to stare down penalties on their own. So why not try that, while restricting teams to three on the line for 20-metre frees?

And when that's done, how about formalising some kind of apology to Nash? Because he knows this isn't about some broad, country-wide concern about a threat to defenders' lives.


Long before now, men like Carey, Davy Fitzgerald, Damien Fitzhenry and Paul Flynn could all hit close-in frees with the velocity of rifle-fire. Truth is, just about every hurling club in Ireland probably has somebody who can.

What they haven't got is a man who, through time and practice, finds a way of stretching the three or four yards every free-taker steals with his lift to a murderous six or seven.

Or, to put it more starkly, moving the strike zone forward by somewhere between 18 and 21 feet!

This, then, is unique for the GAA. The rules of a game being changed to -- let's be honest -- rein in one single individual.

That is Nash's achievement and his misfortune.

The curse of being too good.

Time for Long to prove he's a 'top gun'

DO you remember Shane Long's sublime double for West Bromwich Albion against Aston Villa last November?

The chaps in Sky Sports were, all of a sudden, in a wide-eyed tizzy that such a talent had not been snapped up by a 'top' club.

His then manager, Steve Clarke gushed that the goals proved Long to be "a player to be reckoned with."

Two weeks earlier, he'd broken a 10-game scoreless streak by getting on the mark against Chelsea.

This, it seemed, was Shane's big moment to prove himself a top Premier League striker.

His goals return since then? Zero.

As he now makes a £7m move to Hull, the former Tipperary minor hurler remains one of the great enigmas of the game.

Blessed with searing pace, uncommon strength in the air and -- ostensibly at least -- professional composure, Long should be a nightmare for opposing defenders.

Yet, his career goal average for club and country is one every four games. Long, you have to suspect, regards that statistic as insulting.

Time, surely, to channel his anger into performance.

Sense of forboding at Anfield about Villa visit

CHRISTIAN BENTEKE terrorised Liverpool the last time Aston Villa visited Anfield.

It was, you might recall, the week Brendan Rodgers somewhat bullishly suggested on the back of successive victories that Liverpool's ambition stretched -- not simply to a Champions League position -- but to a top-two finish.

Rodgers has been studiously reticent since, refraining from making any observation beyond keeping Liverpool "in the conversation" for a top-four place.

Until now that is.

In the week Benteke ended a four-month goal drought, Rodgers seemed to get sucked into the media trap of acknowledging Liverpool as live title contenders.

And today's visitors to Anfield are?

Do I not like this.

What next after boiling Aussie Open - golf on top of Ayers Rock?

IF YOU'RE ever taken ill in Melbourne and pitch up at a surgery with the nameplate 'Dr Tim Wood' on the door, there's maybe something you should know.

Above all, be aware that he might be a little ambivalent about heatstroke.

As the world's best tennis players faint and vomit under merciless skies at the Australian Open this week, Wood -- the tournament's chief medical officer -- summoned a pretty unique interpretation of their predicament.

Was it perhaps dangerous playing in microwave temperatures?

Not a bit of it.

"If you take us back a few thousand years, we evolved on the high plains of Africa, chasing antelope for eight hours under these conditions," he told reporters on Thursday, as players brought towels and jackets of ice courtside in order to cool down between changeovers.

"There will be some players who complain and no one is saying it is terribly comfortable to play out there.

"But, from a medical perspective, we know that man is well adapted to exercising in the heat.

"Whether it is humane or not is a whole other issue."

Next stop, the top of Ayers Rock then for the Australian Open in golf.

Nothing mild about Meeke in Monte Carlo

FIFTY YEARS after Paddy Hopkirk's famous win in the Monte Carlo Rally, how good it was yesterday to see Dungannon's Kris Meeke and his Killarney co-driver, Paul Nagle, going toe-to-toe with the best in the world, not to mention Dublin's Robert Barrable running in the top 20.

Irish Independent

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