Sunday 21 January 2018

All rules are equal

Henry Shefflin strikes his penalty in the 2009 All-Ireland final from well in front of the 20-metre line despite the efforts of Tipperary's defenders,
who are all well ahead of the goal-line. Photo: Daire Brennan / Sportsfile
Henry Shefflin strikes his penalty in the 2009 All-Ireland final from well in front of the 20-metre line despite the efforts of Tipperary's defenders, who are all well ahead of the goal-line. Photo: Daire Brennan / Sportsfile

IT'S highly likely that at some stage during the AIB Leinster and Munster senior hurling club semi-finals or the Galway hurling final replay next Sunday a penalty will be awarded.

The ball will be placed carefully on the 20-metre line while the goalkeeper, accompanied by two defenders, stands in goal awaiting the impending missile.

The taker will make his run, lift the ball and then try to get as close to goal as possible before striking the ball. The really good hitters can get to within 15 or 16 metres from goal before the ball is struck.

How often have you seen a referee penalise the taker for playing the ball on his hurley as he gallops forward to give himself maximum advantage? It doesn't happen and it's now being exploited to such a degree that it's only a matter of time before the penalty taker gets to 13 metres before making the strike.

The rule states that the ball must be lifted with the hurley at the first attempt and then struck. There's no problem with the first part but, cute boyos that they are, the strikers are balancing the ball on their hurleys after making the lift, all the time gaining valuable ground as they dash forward.

Remarkably, there has been little discussion on what is clearly a violation of the rule, one that places defences at a distinct disadvantage. Up to this year, the sanction for a goalkeeper stepping outside the small square when taking a puck-out was a '65' to the opposition and while it has been amended to conceding a throw-in on the 20-metre line it's still a substantial punishment.

In effect, a goalkeeper is punished for stepping a few inches outside the square, a movement which brings no gain, yet a penalty taker can steal four or five metres, thus greatly increasing his scoring chances. It's yet another of the anomalies which are so obvious, yet continue to be ignored.

Imagine the outcry if a football penalty taker were allowed to pick up the ball and gallop towards goal before kicking. The practice should be no more acceptable in hurling, yet it has always been there and is now becoming increasingly pronounced.

A penalty generates great tension and excitement but should be subject to proper control. That includes not allowing the taker to foul the ball as he gains several metres illegally.

Penalty takers will never admit it but if they make four or five metres between lift and strike then it has to be illegal.

Not that illegal means are the sole preserve of penalty takers. The majority of goalkeepers are breaking the rules -- not just when it comes to trying to save penalties but throughout the rest of the game too.

The rule on the size of the hurley states that it should not be more than 13cm at its widest point, a stipulation which is gleefully ignored by goalkeepers. In many cases, their hurleys are so big that with some modifications they could double as tennis rackets or even shovels!

Manufacturers will gladly make hurleys to whatever size the customer wants and since there's a clear advantage in having the biggest possible target area, it's hardly surprising that goalkeepers are happy to break the 13cm rule.

Goalkeepers readily admit that they don't have their hurleys checked by officialdom before a game, while referees concede that they don't really regard it as their business and that it never comes up for discussion at meetings.

In effect, the GAA have accepted that the rule is being broken but have no interest in addressing it. The same goes for the lift-and-balance act with penalties.

Both rules were brought in for a very good reason. Allowing penalty takers to advance so far before striking is unfair on the defenders, just as permitting goalkeepers to use massive hurleys is unfair to the opposition.

It's amazing how fussy the GAA can be in regard to some rules whereas others are ignored, even if they have a bigger impact on games. Something as fundamental as the use of illegal hurleys and permitting penalties to effectively be taken from the wrong place shouldn't go unchecked but we don't hear a squeak about them from the power brokers, yet they can become very exercised over little matters which really don't matter.

This is the time of year when these types of issues should be discussed and procedures put in place to ensure that where there's a need for change, it's put in place for the new season.

Any chance we might have hurling penalties taken from the right place and goalkeepers restricted to using legal hurleys in 2011? All that's required is a meeting with referees and a statement of intent to apply the rules correctly. Hardly too much to ask, now is it?

Irish Independent

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