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Skehan urges GAA to 'take bull by horns' and introduce Nash ruling

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Former Kilkenny hurler Noel Skehan

Former Kilkenny hurler Noel Skehan

Former Kilkenny hurler Noel Skehan

Hurling's most decorated goalkeeper has backed the move to curtail penalty and free-takers from striking a ball from any closer than 20 metres.

Kilkenny's Noel Skehan, winner of nine All-Irelands and seven All Stars, has long been an advocate of proper policing of penalties and close-range frees in hurling because of the dangers presented.

The motion from the rules committee which "seeks penalties for advancing the ball deliberately from the place at which a free puck, penalty puck or sideline puck is to be struck from", is proving the most topical in the run-up to an otherwise quiet Congress.

Skehan voiced his concerns on this issue 10 years ago and has reiterated the need to enforce rules properly "before it's too late."

Sharing Davy Fitzgerald's concerns about health and safety, he has urged Congress to "take the bull by the horns" before there is a serious issue. Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash (right) has perfected the art of the higher lift from a penalty or close-range free, allowing him to gain as much as six or seven metres before striking powerfully.

He scored goals from 20-metre frees in the drawn and replayed All-Ireland finals, prompting the standing rules committee, which includes Kilkenny manager Brian Cody and former Cork goalkeeper Donal Og Cusack, to forward a corrective motion.

Skehan said the dangers are even greater now since he first raised the issue.

"There weren't too many throwing balls that far in during my time. It was only a couple of yards they were taking. You had some chance. But now there isn't a hope in hell of stopping it," he cautioned. "I can tell you that if they don't do something about it now it's going to be too late when someone is injured and then there will be uproar. My own opinion is the ball should be struck either before or on the 20-metre line. It's gone mad altogether with this thing of throwing up a ball so high and gaining five or six metres.

"Lads will tell you it's a skill and it is a skill," he added. "There is no question about that. But it's dangerous. Especially when the new ball is travelling even faster. I'm not sure what speed it travels at. If you get a bad belt of that there will be uproar. Someone can get badly injured out of it. Then there will be an outcry over the change of rule. Now is the time before anyone gets injured. Go and do it. Take the bull by the horns."

What really irks Skehan, a former selector with Brian Cody, is how goalkeepers can be penalised for being fractionally outside the area when taking a puck-out.

The 2008 Munster U-21 hurling final ended acrimoniously when Clare's current reserve senior goalkeeper Donal Tuohy was penalised for stepping outside the area in the closing stages, giving Tipperary's Pa Bourke an opportunity to steer over the winner from a '65'. Clare fans staged a sit-down protest in Cusack Park after the match.

"I can't understand how a goalkeeper pucking a ball out and he throws the ball up on the edge of the square and he steals a yard or whatever it is and the next thing the umpire has the hand up and it's a hop ball on the 20-metre line. It used to be a '65'," said Skehan.

"Then you have a lad coming up to hit a penalty or a 20-metre free and he throws the ball five or six metres ahead of him and there is nothing about it. It doesn't add up."

"To me there is no danger in a goalkeeper throwing the ball and hitting a ball 80 or 90 metres up the field but there is a lot of danger in a penalty being taken from such close range."

Cork have called for the removal of the motion from this weekend's Congress but Dublin are among the counties who will be supporting the motion after a Management Committee meeting on Monday.

Irish Independent