Tuesday 20 February 2018

Martin Breheny: Hurling a totally different ball game

Matin Breheny

HURLERS, be warned. Footballers -- and their managers -- are unhappy with how they are being refereed and want to drag you into the argument. If they succeed, hurling will be damaged while football won't gain, so it's a pretty dumb game. Losers all round then. Still, football regards it as a legitimate tactic to highlight a perceived grievance over how its games are being refereed.

Football reckons that it's subjected to overly officious refereeing where frees are awarded too easily, yellow cards are flashed for minor offences and red follows far more often than is necessary. The complaint may be justified, but it should have nothing to do with hurling.

Unfortunately, it has. The football world has taken to highlighting its concerns by claiming that hurlers get away with challenges which would have big ball referees reaching for cards of various hues.

It has extended to the media, where allegations of inconsistencies between the codes regularly pop up on 'The Sunday Game', with both codes having their defenders.

My colleague Colm Keys took the debate onto these pages yesterday in an extensive assessment under the heading 'Double Standards', where he contended that "what's viewed as manly in hurling is often mistaken as cynical in football."

There's no doubt there's a perception that football referees are stricter than their hurling counterparts. But then that's to assume that both games must be refereed on the same basis -- which they don't.

Hurling and football are completely different sports where the only common ground relates to their administration. Other than that, they could scarcely be further apart, so working off what remains essentially the same rule and disciplinary framework is flawed.


The system has been in operation since the foundation of the GAA, but it's only in recent years that questions have been raised over how the rules are applied in hurling and football.

Frustration levels are high in football over how easy it is to concede a free or pick up a yellow card by comparison with hurling.

However, before football wraps itself in a persecution complex, it would do well to consider why that situation has developed.

Could it have anything to do with cynical off-the-ball fouling -- in particular, the jersey tug, just as a player begins his run? Or the deliberate foul in order to slow down an attack? Or the cheat who goes to ground very easily? Or the player who, after taking a heavy hit, stays down as if shot?

Football drew attention to itself for petty fouling and other nefarious activities in a way hurling never did. And when the legislators decided that yellow cards were necessary for what are often minor offences in a physical sense, yet hugely destructive in an overall context, a new value system was put in place.

If a player can (rightly) be yellow-carded for jersey pulling, it's unlikely the benefit of the doubt will apply to tough physical challenges. Petty fouling is nowhere nearly as prevalent in hurling, leading to a much more open game which, by extension, encourages referees to let it flow for as long as possible. That includes permitting tough physical exchanges.

In fairness to footballers, not all the problems are of their making. It's very difficult at times to differentiate between the fouler and fouled, which inevitably leads to some wrong decisions, followed by frustration.

A specific example is when a player carries the ball into a tackle. Once it's in that area, there's no way of knowing what will happen next (will a free be awarded and, if so, will it be to the runner or the tackler?), whereas in hurling the ball is usually passed on by the carrier just as he takes the tackle, leaving much less room for uncertainty since the sliotar can be 70 metres away in a few seconds.

It would be unfortunate if unease over how the rules are being implemented in football had a negative impact on hurling, but there's a grave risk that could happen.

If the football world makes enough noise about the alleged disparity, the official response could hit hurling. Instead of adopting a less strict approach in football, the danger is that the word will go out to tighten up in hurling, despite nobody having a real problem with how it's refereed at present.

The dispute arises over claims that Gaelic football is having the physical element seriously diluted, whereas it continues to be allowed in hurling. The solution therefore is not to remove the cutting edge from hurling so as to satisfy football that it's not being treated differently, but rather to review exactly how football is being refereed. Mind you, football could help itself by being as honest and as manly as hurling, although that may be too late now since the damage is done.

Whatever the long-term solution, there is absolutely nothing to be gained by launching a big ball v small ball war.

That way, both will be casualties, since things won't improve in football and hurling will be sanitised, not out of necessity but in order to placate others who feel hard done by.

Underachieving counties not living in wheel world

ACCORDING to a motoring survey, the 10 counties with the highest percentage of motorists who believe themselves to be better-than-average drivers are: Laois, Roscommon, Westmeath, Limerick, Mayo, Carlow, Longford, Offaly, Wicklow and Waterford.

Notice anything about them? Remove Offaly and the rest haven't won a single All-Ireland senior hurling or football title between them in the last 37 years. Remove Limerick and the wait extends to 51 years.

Still, it's comforting to know that the next time one of them reaches an All-Ireland final, "better-than-average drivers" will ferry them to Croke Park. Or so they think.

Dual battlers deserve fixture consideration

LIMERICK, Galway and Antrim are all double-booked next Saturday, with their hurlers and footballers in qualifier action at venues more than 100 miles apart. Offaly were similarly engaged last Saturday week. In the case of Limerick and Antrim, one of their teams is at home but Galway have to travel to the Gaelic Grounds (hurling) and Navan (football).

Now, I know all the arguments put forward about the need to stick to original dates to avoid disruption of club fixtures, but surely common sense demands some flexibility?

Given that it could be the last run-out in the championship for Limerick, Galway and Antrim, it's pretty unforgiving to fix their hurlers and footballers on the same day at venues which are so far from each other.

Would a switch to Sunday for some of the games upset the schedule all that much? Somehow I don't think so.

Irish Independent

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