Clash with the ash could spell doom for FRC proposals
EUGENE McGee and his review committee always knew that there were risks in proposing rule changes for football that might have implications for hurling.
The hurling world remains deeply suspicious of football, blaming its more negative aspects for attracting the attention of meddling law-makers. When the 'sin bin' experiment was undertaken a few years ago, hurling people became deeply frustrated, complaining about being lumbered with an unnecessary intrusion which had been inflicted on them by cynical fouling in football.
Of course, football has its problems with hurling, too, as there's a view that the 'big ball' boys pick up yellow and red cards far more easily than the stickmen. It's a fair argument, but since hurling has fewer negative tendencies than its modern-day football equivalent, it's easy to understand why it gets the benefit of the doubt.
Still, it's another example of the difficulty in trying to run two completely different games off broadly similar rules and disciplinary procedures. Now, the GAA has run headlong into another one.
When the Football Review Committee (FRC), chaired by McGee (right), recently advocated the introduction of a new sanction for deliberately destructive fouls, hurling people recoiled. The FRC want a new sanction imposed whereby a footballer guilty of deliberate and/or cynical fouling receives a black card and is dismissed for the remainder of the game, with a replacement allowed.
It's one of several proposals which, following extensive consultation, the FRC opted to put into the package which will go before Congress in Derry for consideration next Saturday. It's also one of the key initiatives, but will it be discussed purely on its merits as a means of improving football or will the possible implications for hurling become a distracting issue?
It was certainly a factor in the discussion at the Cork County Board meeting last Tuesday night, when the question was raised of how proposals designed for football might impact on hurling at a later stage. Cork voted heavily to reject the 'black card' sanction and also rejected the 'mark', the proposal to move the ball forward 30 metres when a team deliberately slows down play after conceding a free, and the amended definition of the tackle.
Cork is an interesting case since it's the leading dual county, yet it came out strongly against several of the football proposals on the basis that they might impact on hurling too. They were right to assume that would be the case in relation to the 'black card' since it would have to be introduced in hurling at a later stage if seen to be successful in football.
Otherwise, there would be complaints over having different penalties for a similar offence in two sports run by the same organisation. But would that be such a big deal?
Trying to synchronise the rules of Gaelic football and hurling is akin to linking soccer and hockey rules. The latter two run independently of each other, but because Gaelic football and hurling are under the same organisational umbrella, every effort is made to maintain the rules as similar as possible.
Frankly, it doesn't work. Now, the real danger is that the FRC proposals won't be considered solely in terms of their impact on football but on how they might relate to hurling later on. If that happens and predominantly hurling counties band together to vote against them, then worthy initiatives will be shot down for all the wrong reasons.
Cork delegates – and, indeed, county chairman Bob Ryan – expressed surprise that the FRC had not proposed some amendments to the handpass. They weren't the only ones to be mystified on that one, since the influence of the handpass has grown dramatically – and destructively – over the years.
However, FRC explained that their widespread soundings didn't detect sufficient appetite to limit the handpass. They did, however, state that it was one aspect of the game that needs to be carefully monitored.
Personally, I believe they lost a great opportunity to propose a radical reform by limiting the handpass and since it relates to football only, hurling counties would vote on the merits of the arguments rather than fearing that it might impact on their game.
If the mood in Cork and several Ulster counties is anything to go by, the 'black card' proposal is doomed. That will be a victory for negativity and cynicism, while also ensuring that there will be no change for several years. After all, it's unlikely that the GAA will undertake another major review of rules for quite some time.
The tension between hurling and football over rules is a clear case of two worlds colliding. Of course, it's not the only example of where conflict arises. There has been much debate in recent years on how best to structure the top end of the hurling league, a decision one might reasonably expect to be left to those counties involved.
However, in the great democratic tradition of the GAA, every county has an equal vote at Central Council. It means that Cavan, who don't field a senior hurling team at present, have as much of an input into deciding the structure of Division 1 of the NHL as Kilkenny. But then Kilkenny, who are not fielding a senior football team in the league or championship, have as much say in the FRC proposals as Kerry.
It's another example of the difficulty in having two completely different sports under the same umbrella, while attempting to maintain rules and structures as similar as possible.
It will be argued, of course, that the all-inclusive system has stood the GAA well throughout its 129-year history. That may be the case in a general sense, but there are enough examples of where it just doesn't work.
We may be about to see another of them next Saturday when proposals designed to benefit football are voted down because of fears that they may have a knock-on impact on hurling. Ultimately, that wouldn't be good for either sport.