Sport Hurling

Friday 23 February 2018

Two in, all in with rules of engagement

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

At the Tipperary press evening last week, Padraic Maher made quite an understated suggestion about what type of referee he would like to see in the forthcoming All-Ireland hurling final.

"Throw the ball in and let us at it", was essentially the gist of Maher's wish for the decider.

To hope for anything less would be a sign that Tipperary were looking for different terms than Kilkenny, and Maher was sure to pronounce Tipp's equal desire for physical combat.

Over in Kilkenny, Brian Cody was expressing similar sentiments that the game would be allowed to find its own course and that disruption from a whistle would be as minimal as possible.

These are the terms that Kilkenny have always thrived on and the terms that Maher was keen to pitch for too. To want anything else, even something as out of the ordinary as a closer adherence to the rules, would have been to take a step back and no one was going to own up to that.


On Sunday, Maher got what he wished for as Brian Gavin delivered the laissez-faire attitude, similar to Diarmuid Kirwan two years ago, that both camps were keen to have. Kilkenny won, just as they won two years earlier.

For most of the second half, Gavin was little more than a casual bystander. Eight frees, four for each side. Was it really such a free-flowing encounter that demanded such little recall by the referee?

One yellow card in over 70 minutes of full-blooded hurling? Was the aggression and the attrition really that controlled that only David Young's wrestle to the ground of Michael Fennelly was the only offence deemed serious enough to warrant a booking?

It should be pointed out that there weren't too many more names that should have joined Young in Gavin's book. Tommy Walsh and Noel Hickey, obviously, from two first-half flashpoints that could have had them thinking differently after that.

This wasn't a cynical game in any way, but there were sufficient numbers of head-high tackles and players wrapped up with arms around their bodies to merit a far greater amount of frees, particularly in the second half. But to award frees in accordance with the rule book can leave a referee in isolation in this great Kilkenny/Tipperary hegemony of the last three seasons.

Since the league final in Thurles in 2009, and the plaudits heaped on that game, the rules of engagement have changed for this fixture.

If we are honest, it's everyone's guilty pleasure to allow these teams "at it" as Maher prescribed, and Gavin delivered to order in that regard.

But on Sunday, in attempting to let it flow, in attempting to allow advantage to develop, there were far too many unseemly rucks and scrambles for possession and far too many players from both sides wrapped up with arms and hurls and that had an adverse effect on the tempo. One side was as culpable as the other, Kilkenny suffering just as much as Tipperary.

Too often, players were allowed to sort it out for themselves, much more than either of the last two years. Players knew they could take greater liberties with each other because that is the environment that exists.

If you are a Gaelic footballer in the current climate of strict policing measures, you will look on with some justifiable anger at the way hurling, especially between these counties, continues to be regulated in such light-touch fashion.

If you're from a hurling county that's not Tipperary or Kilkenny, you are entitled to feel a little aggrieved too. The same terms of engagement do not apply for them.

We're all for a spectacle, we're all for a physical game, but, if that's the case, they should apply to all, not just these two.

Irish Independent

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