The John Horgan column: Too many frees take the edge from hurling 

Was the game that broken we needed all these new rule changes? It was always a man’s game and a good, honest tackle was part and parcel of it...
The John Horgan column: Too many frees take the edge from hurling 

Cork catpain Patrick Horgan is one of the best free-takers in hurling. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

HERE’S an interesting statistic: Last weekend’s games in Division 1A and 1B of the NHL yielded a total of 115 points that were converted from frees.

Donal Burke from Dublin led the way with 14 of those in their win over Laois and that was matched by Evan Niland for Galway who registered a similar amount in their triumph over Limerick.

Paddy Curran was next best for Waterford in their win over Westmeath with 11, while Jason Forde split the posts with 10 for Tipperary in their draw with Cork.

The importance of a very reliable free-taker is being illustrated more and more in every game and at all levels of the game that is becoming more and more apparent.

In fact, the outcome of a lot of games now depends on the prowess of the player who is charged with the responsibility of nailing scores from the dead ball.

In the aftermath of last weekend’s games, numerous team bosses expressed their unhappiness at how the game is being officiated.

Limerick boss John Kiely was scathing in his assessment of the situation, stating that the tackle has been taken out of hurling and that any sort of physical contact is now being viewed as an indiscretion and as a result a free is awarded.

He asked questions of where the game is at right now and said if it continues in a similar vein spectators will not return to the games when the restrictions are fully lifted.

“It does appear that the game of hurling has changed in the last four months whilst we have all been at home, and somebody has decided to take the tackle out of the game.

“I would love to know who it was and when that was decided.’’

Kiely is perfectly right, of course. There is far too much tinkering with the rules, hurling, in particular.

Was the game that broken that we needed all these new rule changes; hurling was always a man’s game and a good, honest tackle was part and parcel of it.

Of course, you are going to have fouls that have to be punished by referees and free shots at goal must be given but when a game now contains 40 or 50 frees you have to question just what is going on.

Referees are being castigated for their interpretation of the rules but don’t blame them, they are only carrying out the message that they are given.

Waterford boss Liam Cahill made a very interesting point after his team’s narrow win over Westmeath. He questioned the level of scrutiny that the men in the middle are being put under.

He wondered if one of the significant issues when it comes to officiating in the game of hurling is related to the review sessions that refs engage in with assessors after the conclusion of a game.

Referees are almost fearful now of making a genuine mistake such is the scrutiny they are being put under, fearful that they will be cast aside if they are deemed not to be carrying out the rules as directed by the suits in Croke Park.

Donal Burke of Dublin scores a point from a free. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Donal Burke of Dublin scores a point from a free. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Conversations in the aftermath of a game of hurling used to be about some of the great scores that were converted or some of the saves a goalkeeper might make. That’s the way it should be and not what is happening now when all the talk is about how a game was refereed.


Hurling is and should be a simple game, not a game over-complicated by rules and more rules, some of which are far removed from the game we all love so much.

Kiely stated that we don’t want our game turning into a free-taking competition, how right he is. There is growing frustration among team bosses about the direction the game is going in.

A referee never has an easy job and why in God’s name would anybody want to take it up at the moment!

They are doing a fantastic job in most cases but the most important two words in a ref’s vocabularly should be ‘common sense’ and the application of it.

The man in the middle is being dictated too much by a higher power, people who seem intent on taking the fun out of the game.

Right now a free-flowing game is a rarity, instead it’s a stop-start affair because of the number of frees that are being awarded for all too minor indiscretions.

If the current situation existed in bygone days you might have just 20 players on the field at the end of a game.

The physical element, so much a part of the game is being removed.

Yes, over physicality, very rough play must be removed from the game and the appropriate punishment meted out.

It’s very early in the season yet and the championship is a bit in the distance but if this high free count continues to be the case in the big games the game of hurling which is one of the greatest of all field sports will diminish further and further.

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