Sport GAA

Sunday 26 May 2019

Players warned of zero tolerance in rules crackdown

Head-high tackles lead the list of fouls which will not be tolerated as Croke Park put down marker for the summer

Feargal McGill, Head of Games Administration. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Feargal McGill, Head of Games Administration. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Players be warned - the strictest interpretation of the rules is being unleashed in the championships and will continue right through until All-Ireland final Sundays.

At least that's the official line from Croke Park, who have identified areas which will come under scrutiny.

They include head-high tackles in football and hurling, illegal handpassing (hurling), jumping into an opponent with no chance of winning the ball (football mostly) and contributing to a melee (both codes).

The public will, no doubt, be sceptical as history shows early-championship crackdowns don't always last.


For now though, it's 'Operation Zero Tolerance', especially in the area of player safety.

That was the message delivered by Willie Barrett, chairman of the National Referees' Development committee, Patrick Doherty, National Match Officials manager, and Feargal McGill, Head of Games Administration, at a media briefing.

Head-high tackles, or any contact with the head that's deemed dangerous or careless, will result in instant dismissal.

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It was also made clear that responsibility for avoiding contact with an opponent's head rests totally with the tackler.

That includes where a smaller player ducks low in an attempt to get around his marker, which happens regularly in hurling.

Indeed, it's a source of frustration among taller players that smaller opponents are deliberately dropping their heads as they come into contact, knowing that, at the very least, they will be awarded a free.

The Croke Park officials were unrepentant on the strict interpretation of the rule.

"The responsibility is on the tackling player to get it right and not make contact with an opponent's head.

"Once the player in possession is playing the ball legally, he deserves protection," said Doherty.

"We have to protect the head at all times. Our medical committee are always stressing that. It has to be a top priority," said McGill (pictured).

"It's all about duty of care. Anything above the shoulders, we've instructed our referees to issue a red card for a deliberate challenge," said Barrett.

It's a more serious issue in hurling, where players can be careless because the opponent is wearing a helmet.

"Maybe there's a greater belief among hurlers that because their opponents have a helmet, he can't do much damage. That's not the case and doesn't minimise the foul," said Barrett.

He also stressed that illegal handpassing, which has become a serious bugbear in recent years, is under close scrutiny.

Former Tipperary All-Ireland-winning full-back Conor O'Donovan has led a campaign, highlighting how 'throwing' goes unpunished on a regular basis.

Barrett accepts that it's a problem, but claims that referees have been more vigilant this year.

"We've looked at videos from the National League of players who were penalised and players who weren't.

"In one game, four fouls were called for incorrect handpasses in the first half and none in the second half, so players got the message.

"The onus is on the player to show clear striking action (of the ball). We can't ignore a foul, just to keep the play flowing. If it's a foul, it has to be penalised," he said.

Barrett accepts that it's often difficult for a referee to make a call on handpasses because he is behind the play, but insists that there's no need for a second referee.

"I don't think that would improve the situation. He could be behind the ball carrier too."

Barrett remains a fan of the black card in football, despite inconsistencies in interpretation.


It's a source of frustration among players and the public when they don't know why a black card, as opposed to a yellow card, is shown and vice versa.

A black-card offence is defined in rule, but quite often it becomes unclear in a specific incident.

"It can be a difficult call at times, but I think referees get most of them right. I certainly see no benefit in changing it.

"Why would we take it out when it has been successful in reducing cynical play," Barrett said.

It was also revealed that a strict approach would be taken to the growing trend, especially in football, of players crashing into an opponent who is jumping for the ball.

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