Thursday 22 February 2018

Tidying up hurling free anomaly a victory for fouling classes

Anthony Nash
Anthony Nash
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Anthony Nash may well have forced his way into GAA history as the first player to single-handedly prompt a rule change because of his individual talents in a certain area.

The Cork goalkeeper's ability to gain anything up to six metres on a penalty or 20-metre frees has forced the GAA to address an anomaly which has existed for decades.

Hotshot strikers have always gained a few metres on close-in frees, skilfully exploiting a vague rule which used the word 'taken' rather than 'struck'.

Confusion reigned over when the act of taking a free was actually executed. Was it when the ball was lifted or struck? The difference could be several metres, but referees sided with the 'struck' interpretation -- hence the stealing of precious metres as the striker tried to get as close as possible to goal.

Goalkeepers and defenders grumbled about what they regarded as an unfair advantage being bestowed on the attacking team, but since close-in frees have always been an exciting part of hurling, the rule anomaly (opposition are supposed to be 20 metres from the taker) was ignored.

And then along came Nash, complete with his capacity to gain up to six metres with his toss. It's almost certain to lead to a rule change at Congress next month, making it illegal to strike the ball from inside the 20-metre line off a free.

At face value, it's merely tidying up the rule, but it will have repercussions. It's logical to assume that the goal rate from penalties and close-in frees will drop so, in effect, clearing up the rule benefits the offending team. Is that in the game's best interest?

Against that background, a compromise would have been in order. By all means, insist that the striker must be no closer than 20 metres to goal but reduce the defending party from three to two. That would have been a neat trade-off between the need to ensure that the striker is not within 20 metres of goal while at the same time handing some advantage back to the attacking side.

As the proposed rule change stands, it removes an anomaly but will also lead to fewer goals. It's a victory for the fouling classes.

Irish Independent

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