In hurling's brave new world protecting attackers is a step forward

New rule was needed to punish defenders who cynically cut down those going through on goal
In hurling's brave new world protecting attackers is a step forward

Damien Cahalane of Cork fouls Conor Gleeson of Waterford, for which he was sent off for a second yellow card in 2017. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

WHAT would John Doyle, Kieran Carey, and Mick Maher — the Tipperary full-back line of long ago — have made of a sin bin for hurling?

They took no prisoners and any threat of a goal from the opposition would have been stopped, by hook or by crook.

They were not the only defenders who had that viewpoint. The defender’s motto back then was, ‘You shall not pass’.

So, if a sin-bin for cynical fouling applied in those days of yore, a lot of players would have received time out, or 10 minutes off the field. Penalty shots would have been plentiful, too, the second punishment for the indiscretion.

But the game has moved on a million miles from the 1960s. It is almost unrecognisable. 

A year ago, at Congress, a motion to bring in a sin-bin, and to award a penalty if a cynical foul was committed inside the 20-metre line or the semi-circle area, was heavily defeated. The thinking was that if it was put forward again, at a later date, it would be very difficult to secure the two-thirds majority required to get it over the line.

But what a difference that year has made and, admittedly by a narrow margin, the new rule got through. That will change how defenders deal with players bearing down on goal.

Delegates from major hurling counties, like Kilkenny and Limerick, opposed the motion last weekend, while Cork, Offaly, Waterford, and Wexford supported it.

The new rule will be trialled this season, although we don’t know when the year will commence.

It will be interesting to see how it all develops. It does heap extra pressure on the referee, in deciding what constitutes a foul of this nature and what does not.

There won’t be much time to trial it, because when the games do resume, it will be straight into competitive action. There will be no pre-season competitions or challenge games to help referees get used to it.


That point was made by former Tipperary goalkeeping great, Brendan Cummins, earlier this week. He said on RTÉ: “With challenge games, referees would have got used to applying new rules and there could be a few errors when there was no-one looking at them in the limelight and adjust to fix it.

“It will be difficult for them, but I would hope they get it right. They are all hurling people.

“They’ll get a sense of when somebody is being pulled down and, hopefully, they will make the correct decision.

“There’s no doubt it does put an extra layer of pressure on referees.”

But Cummins believes that the GAA is right to introduce what may be a major subject for discussion in all the big games this year.

“I think it is a positive step forward, but it will be really, really interesting to see how it pans out and what way it is interpreted by referees over the course of the championship,” Cummins told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“Now that we won’t have a major amount of time coming out of Covid to practice, or to get a feel for what the interpretation is going to look like, so all the eyes, and focus, is going to be on them.”

And he is right. GAA referees will not be able to rely on VAR, as they have across the water, and they won’t be able to go to the sideline to view the incident.

It will have to be a split-second decision to award a penalty or not, to dismiss a player for 10 minutes or not, and a decision like that could have far-reaching consequences.

But probably the correct decision was made at Congress because instances of players being hauled down when bearing down on goal were becoming all too frequent.

Now, the defender is going to have to think twice about committing such a foul.

The punishment is excessive, but if it stamps out the type of cynicism that is entering the game, then it will have been a good day’s work.

It’s just a pity that there won’t be pre-season games and challenge matches to give the referees some time to become more familiar with what is a major decision by the GAA.

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