MIDWAY through the first half of the Limerick-Tipperary game in the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday evening, Tom Morrisey won a ball 50 metres from goal before playing a diagonal hand-pass to Conor Boylan, who immediately turned into heavy Tipperary traffic.
Boylan tried to break through the clutches of Jake Morris and Bryan O’Mara but, just as he was pulled back, Boylan got off the hand-pass to David Reidy, who was coming off Boylan’s shoulder.
Yet as soon as Reidy had the ball in his hand, Cork and Nemo referee Colm Lyons blew for the free.
Dan McCormack was coming back to try and get in the hook and, while Reidy’s shot dropped short into goalkeeper Barry Hogan, a point wouldn’t have been registered anyway because of the new advantage rule.
That sequence of play was just one of a number of incidents in that game where the play was stopped from developing because of how the rule is now being applied.
In the second half, Peter Casey was fouled by McCormack just before he got the pass off to Boylan, who struck the ball over the bar, but Lyons had just called the free back.
Lyons had to apply the rules as they are in the rule book after Congress voted earlier this year to reword the advantage rule for both football and hurling, with the new rule being interpreted as the awarding of a free to be the actual advantage in the majority of cases.
The referee can now only play advantage if the ref believes the team in possession of the ball have a clear goal-scoring opportunity or another advantage 'by creating or capitalising on time and space.'
It certainly hasn’t made referees lives any easier, but it will also alter the pattern and flow of games, especially with more frees certain to be blown.
“Referees will have to get on with what the rule says rather than thinking of the way it should have been,” said Donal Smyth, GAA National Match Officials Manager at a media briefing on the new rules last week.
“There were plusses and minuses of both, but the rule is the rule at the moment and that’s the way it will have to be implemented.”
When the five-second advantage rule was introduced in 2015, the definition was fairly clear; no advantage accruing within five seconds included a range of instances, such as a pass going astray, another player moving in to tackle as soon as the fouled player got away from the initial foul, a shot taken within the five seconds which went wide, a shot taken within the five seconds which was saved by the goalkeeper.
In those instances, the referee was instructed to come back and award the original free, but it wasn’t always black and white either.
For example, if a player/team who had been awarded an advantage committed a foul within the 5 second period then the free should be awarded against that player for the subsequent foul.
That was the only real glitch with the five-second advantage rule but it was still a huge help to referees when it was first introduced in 2015.
In the first part of the last decade, the greatest challenge for any referee was how to apply the advantage rule without it penalising the team in possession.
Other teams, especially Kilkenny, were happy to accept the advantage all of the time because they had power and physicality to keep the ball alive.
The advantage rule also suited Kilkenny when they didn’t have possession because it gave them a free foul.
The advantage rule was amended in 2015 to the five-second advantage rule in order to cut out incidents like the goal Cyril Donnellan scored within a few seconds of being fouled early in the second half of the 2012 replayed All-Ireland final.
Having blown his whistle, referee James McGrath had no choice but to cancel the goal and award Donnellan a free which Joe Canning pointed.
Galway were trailing by five points at the time but Kilkenny effectively gained two points by fouling under a rule which had no basis whatsoever in logic or fairness.
The latest amendment to the rule protects against such a situation happening now because the referee can play advantage if the team in possession have a clear goal-scoring opportunity.
Yet the greater worry is that the new rule will slow the game down.
In a perverse way, especially if a player is moving with momentum to take a pass just as the player who has given the pass is fouled in a non-scoring position, the rule could reward foul play.
“This rule fully goes against the ethos of the game,” said Dónal Óg Cusack on ‘’ last weekend.
Cusack said that the GAA had “to change the rule ASAP” but that isn’t possible in 2021.
It can only be changed at Annual Congress. In the lead-up to the hurling league, all the talk of controversy around the new rules focused on the sin-bin/penalty rule.