GAA players need to start working on their 45s and 65s for new shootout rules

GAA players need to start working on their 45s and 65s for new shootout rules
Cork's Colm O'Neill attempts a late free in the 2015 Munster final draw in Killarney. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

The Christy O'Connor column

IN the 2006 Sigerson Cup, University of Jordanstown Belfast met IT Sligo in a qualifier in Ballinode. 

IT Sligo were at home. They were the reigning Sigerson champions. 

Their side was packed with big names but UUJ refused to be beaten by the Sligo college. The teams were level on six occasions in the second half before Michael Doherty levelled for IT Sligo at 0-10 apiece in stoppage time. 

The sides were still level 0-12 apiece after the first 20-minute period of extra-time. When Galway referee Gerry Kinneavey indicated the game might go to a replay, some heated exchanges developed between officials from both sides.

Sligo officials were adamant an additional 10-minutes of extra-time should be played. Following a telephone call to Croke Park, it was decided that a second period of extra-time would be played out. When the teams were still deadlocked 0-14 apiece at the end of that second period, the game went to penalties, which UUJ won 4-2. 

It was high-wire and gripping drama but that match 11 years ago was the first, and so far, only national competition to feature a penalty shootout. In last year’s Fitzgibbon Cup final between Mary I and UL, it looked at one stage that the game may come down to a penalty shoot-out. 

Although the previous year’s final between UL and IT Waterford was level after extra-time, and was decided after a replay, when every third-level team management received a booklet before last year’s competition began, it was stated in the rules section that games would be decided on penalty shootouts if the teams were still level after a second period of extra-time.

The final finished level at 1-27 to 3-21 at the end of extra-time before the teams went at it again for another 10 minutes. Eventually, Mary I surged clear in the 88th minute when Darragh O’Donovan nailed a free and Cian Lynch hit the insurance point to land Mary I their first Fitzgibbon title.

It had been bandied about on the day that the GAA wouldn’t allow the match to be decided in that fashion, or wouldn’t force either team to let the match be decided in that manner if they didn’t want it. 

There seemed to be a near aversion to penalty shootouts but the GAA could experience ‘sudden death’ finishes to competitive senior matches for the very first time on Sunday with the introduction of a free-taking competition after two periods of extra-time to decide drawn league quarter-finals and semi-finals.

It is on a pilot basis but the Special U17 Football and Hurling Competitions in 2017 and the new U20 Football Championship in 2018 will require to finish ‘on the day’. 

If teams still can’t be separated after two periods of extra time, it moves to the free-taking competition with five nominated free-takers, chosen from those who have played at some stage in the previous 100 minutes, taking shots from the 65-metre line. 

For the football competitions, frees will be taken from the 45-metre line.  If the teams are still deadlocked after five shots it moves to ‘sudden death’ until there is a winner. 

The first sudden death free is taken by the player who took the first free, and the sudden death element will continue until such time as there is a definite outcome.

There isn’t the same level of drama attached to a penalty shootout because it all hinges on one player - the freetaker. Frees will be taken for points only, with no goalkeeper or defenders facing the free- takers, but the GAA missed a trick there. 

If the goalkeeper was in play, and the free was going a foot or two over the crossbar, stopping the point - which many goalkeepers are well capable off - would have added to the sense of excitement.

Given the comparative nature of hurling and football to soccer, and the huge difference in scores, there isn’t the same propensity for shootouts in GAA matches after 100+ minutes of action. 

The GAA rightly just want to establish the ground-rules first.  Getting the basics right in something so novel and dramatic is key but the more scope, the greater potential for hype and drama.

Limiting the number of freetakers to five does reduce that potential because many teams have at least five players who would nail a 65 without too much trouble. But similar to soccer, when the demand increases, so does the risk.

It’s likely that the GAA took note of the 2008-‘09 Heineken Cup semi-final between Cardiff Blues and Leicester Tigers. 

The scores were level after regular time and neither team was able to score during extra time, which resulted in the first ever penalty shoot-out in a professional rugby match.

When the shoot-out went to sudden death, both sides were successful with their kicks in the first two rounds before Martyn Williams missed Cardiff's eighth kick, allowing Jordan Crane to hit the winner.

Afterwards, there was criticism of the format, specifically specifically because so many shots were attempted by players who wouldn't ordinarily kick the ball during a rugby match. 

Changes were made to the format ahead of the following season's tournament, though no other Heineken Cup match ever needed to be decided by a penalty shoot-out.

Hurling and football though, are different. 

Most hurlers would fancy their chances of scoring a 65. The odds would not be as favourable for all footballers but every team should have at least five footballers comfortable kicking from the 45. 

If anything, it could encourage that freetaking skill in the game more. The odds of a freetaking shootout happening in the next few weeks are slim but managers and teams still need to prepare for the possibility. 

The Cork players stand together for the national anthem last weekend. This week's quarter-final could be decided by a free-taking competition. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
The Cork players stand together for the national anthem last weekend. This week's quarter-final could be decided by a free-taking competition. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

One hurling manager involved in a quarter-final this Sunday knew nothing about the rule-change by last Tuesday.  He said he thought it was coming in for the championship. That evening, he got a few of his players to stay behind to practise taking 65s. 

Just in case.

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