Last Sunday’s Munster club SHC final ebbed and flowed throughout the first half with marvellous commitment, skill and scores.
It was very clear that any slight edge would tip the balance for either Thurles Sarsfields and De La Salle.
The main talking point arrived just before half-time when De La Salle’s John Keane was sent off by Shane Hourigan for a retaliatory strike – not of the Love Hate variety but a clear strike nonetheless.
Everyone has been asking was it the correct decision. In the official rules, under aggressive fouls, rule 5.2 clearly states: "To strike or to attempt to strike an opponent with a hurley... with minimal force" carries the penalty of being ordered off.
The referee had no option but to show Keane a red card. Yellow cards are shown by some referees for this offence at times, particularly where games are played in the correct spirit devoid of dangerous tackles, but is this correct? Are the referees who show yellows for striking with minimal force undermining those who apply the rule, or is "the strike" itself poorly defined? Into what category does shoving the butt or bas of the hurley into a player’s ribs or abdomen fall?
There’s no doubt John Keane was guilty of striking, but, as an incident in the recent Galway county final shows, there is no consistency in applying the rules.
In that game Loughrea forward Johnny Maher was pulled down going through but exacted some revenge on the defenders. He poked the bas of his hurley into the abdomen of one opponent and clearly struck another.
He held on to his penalty award, which he scored, and then kicked another opponent as he went past.
According to the rules as written in the Official Guide, Maher committed two category II aggressive fouls, each carrying a penalty of a red card.
No action was taken by the referee and the only logical explanation, difficult to understand as it may be, is neither he nor his umpires saw the incidents.
Players crave consistency. A two-footed tackle, no matter what the circumstances, carries a red card in the Premier League. The players know this and there are no misunderstandings.
Players are in no man’s land if the rules are applied inconsistently, which leads to dissatisfaction. Amateur players who train so hard and serve up such great entertainment are at least entitled to that consistency.
If John Keane viewed the Maher incident on YouTube he may have felt hard done by last Sunday as the rule is supposedly the same in Connacht as it is in Munster.
Maher also ‘poked’ or shoved the hurley into an opponent. Is poking a player with the butt or bas of the hurley a strike? This is a grey area that needs to be defined.
Referees don’t define this action as a strike — although going back to 2001 Brian O’Meara and Liam Dunne might disagree — as at most it carries a yellow card, but is often let go.
This offence should be in a different category to striking unless it gets out of hand completely. The GAA could learn from rugby and maybe ten minutes in the sin bin would be a more fitting penalty for professional fouls or for fouls of the poking variety.
Referee Shane Hourigan was decisive in his action on Sunday and there was no grey area. If all referees followed suit at least players would know that striking off the ball or in an altercation with another player, no matter how mild or minimal, means a straight red.
Thurles won because they were more clinical up front and because subs Ger ‘Redser’ O’Grady and Richie Ruth made valuable contributions.
But defences win championships and while there’s no doubt Sars have good forwards, there are question marks over their backs.
Their full-back line were guilty of some needless fouls when pressurised and even coughed up a clear penalty which, luckily for them, wasn’t given.
Sars’ greater fire power saw them home but tightening their inside defence is imperative if they hope to go the whole way.