John Fogarty: Something’s gotta give to tackle cynical hurling

John Fogarty: Something’s gotta give to tackle cynical hurling
Cork County Board vice-chairman Marc Sheehan addressing the large turnout for the official opening of the Eddie O’Connell All-Weather Hurling Complex at Sarsfields GAA Club in Cork by GAA president John Horan on Saturday. Picture: Mike English

It's at times like these you realise hurling never needed to be recognised as a UNESCO-protected cultural activity for it to be fortified.

Hurleys have been swapped for pitchforks in response to the GAA’s playing rules committee’s call for the sin bin to be extended to the game.

Hurling has been a victim of association in the past as it was treated for Gaelic football’s ills when it has shown little or no symptoms.

However, as the spare hand has become prevalent and the physical nature ratchets up, there have been consequences, and cynicism is one of them.

Still, Limerick manager John Kiely’s “leave hurling alone” comments after Sunday’s win over Galway will have resonated with a lot of followers of the game, certainly the 510 of the 739 people (69%) who voted against the sin bin being applied to hurling in a 24-hour poll we carried out on Twitter last Friday.

But lest we believe that the entire hurling fraternity considers the game is fine as it is:

Tony Considine, 2013: “If you want to get your discipline right on the field, look at rugby. There you have the sin bin, no nonsense.

A player is off the field for 10 minutes, no replacement; his team is put under additional pressure for that 10 minutes and even when he comes back on, they can still be under pressure, fellas having put in a lot more effort in that 10 minutes than they’d otherwise have done.

Dónal Óg Cusack, 2020: “Instead of you seeing a stoppage and a load of messing going on, a player knows he can’t take the player down for a clear goalscoring opportunity like that (Robbie O’Flynn brought down by Seán O’Brien).

"What’s wrong with that? Do we want to see the rugby-type tackle or the forward going through trying to finish the ball?”

Michael Duignan, 2018: ‘Your team suffers when you are off the field for that 10-minute spell.

"If there is a cynical foul, particularly when there is a goal chance on, then the player in question has to be properly punished.

"It is happening all the time at the moment and players can’t be seen to be getting away with it.”

Anthony Daly, 2015: “You could be reduced to 14 men for maybe 10 minutes, and that you would have to cope with that. I don’t know how you would bring it in, maybe for the second yellow.

"If we just look across at the rugby, it does seem to hurt teams, and would give the team with the full 15 a big advantage.”

Liam Griffin, 2019: “Ten minutes is a serious penalty in hurling and football, except that it could lead to teams who lose a player becoming more defensive in that period.

"I think it is a move in the right direction, and if it is worth trying in football, it is worth trying in hurling.”

John Fogarty: Something’s gotta give to tackle cynical hurling

To illustrate his point, Griffin highlighted how Damien Reck was taken out of the play by a deliberate collision in the Galway-Wexford Leinster SHC game last summer.

Two weeks later and Galway, having put together a tidy six-point lead, were doing anything and everything to stop Kilkenny’s forwards advancing on their goal.

AS an alternative to the sin bin, it has been proposed that bringing forward a free for a cynical foul by 50 metres would be fairer.

It has even been suggested that such a foul anywhere on the field be penalised not by a black card but in the form of a penalty.

The flaw in that was shown up on Sunday when Galway forward Jason Flynn brought down Limerick defender Aaron Costello in Limerick’s own small rectangle.

Awarding a penalty to Limerick for that infringement would be outrageously inappropriate.

What might work is a combination of the two, that is a free being brought forward 50m if the cynical foul has been committed against the team in their own half of the field and a penalty/20m free if it has taken place in the opposition’s half.

Although, a certain point and a yellow card is not going to deter defending players from taking matters into their own hands to stop goal opportunities developing.

The terms of the sin bin for hurling aren’t perfect — a mistimed shoulder could easily be deemed a cynical foul when it was anything but.

The difference between a charge on a player, which is a ticking offence, and a collision to take an opponent out of the play is minimal, as is the margin between holding a player, which is also a ticking, and pulling him down, currently a yellow but proposed to be a black.

As it reads, the sin bin is unlikely to receive the required 60% support if it makes the Clár of Congress at the end of the month. But hurling isn’t above cynicism and its rules aren’t strong enough to reflect that fact.

To claim otherwise is just, well, cynical.

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How’s that ticket price increase working out for the GAA? Pretty good, if you are to go by the attendances these past couple of weekends.

The 42,502 number that was recorded for the Dublin-Kerry Division 1 game last Saturday week also took in the intermediate and junior club football finals.

Nevertheless, it was a strong turnout and the figures from other clashes, for example Dublin v Mayo 15,148 and over 8,000 at Kerry v Galway, have been encouraging.

The top flight hurling crowds has been impressive too, when you consider more than 15,000 watched Limerick-Galway, 9,821 took in Cork-Tipperary and in Division 1, Group 2 6,800 were there to see Wexford v Clare.

That was coming after an opening weekend where combined crowds of almost 24,000 witnessed the three Division 1, Group 1 games (that included Galway’s Round 1 double-header in Salthill).

The GAA’s decision to hike stand admission for adults to €20 on the day of a game clearly hasn’t hurt them but then the reasonably good weather has helped, as has the fact supporters are hungry after five months devoid of competitive inter-county action.

The crowds will flock again to Chadwicks Wexford Park when Kilkenny come to town Sunday week for their Group 2 clash but it will be Group 1 that provides most gate receipts.

That lopsidedness is the obvious flaw in the new format but the drubbings Carlow and Westmeath have been handed in each group hardly does them or the competition any good.

After two games, Carlow have a score difference of minus 37, Westmeath minus 26. What development is there in losing games by such margins?

The previous structure was too cut-throat but two groups of five instead of six may provide the right balance.

Best refs needed for football’s lower division bearpits

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that after only two rounds, 15 of the 16 teams across Allianz Football Leagues Divisions 2 and 3 have dropped points, Cork being the exception.

With so much at stake, there is a championship feel to so many of the games and the margins are incredibly tight.

Could Roscommon imagine being bottom of Division 2 with a score difference of minus one, or Louth footing up Division 3 with a minus four difference?

Having stared down the barrel of two defeats only to rescue a draw against Down and a victory in Louth two days ago, Tipperary don’t need to be reminded how competitive things are, and they will go to Derry this Sunday full of confidence.

But bearing in mind just what’s on the line for them and the other 15 teams as a result of their finishing place in this year’s league, shouldn’t there be more consideration given to the games?

When full Sam Maguire Cup membership is guaranteed to the top six in Division 2 and top two in Division 3, the GAA should be reflecting the importance of these fixtures and appointing their leading referees to them.

The names confirmed to take charge of this weekend’s games again indicate that not enough respect is being shown to the real story of the league this year.

As the urgency/desperation to avoid the second tier championship kicks in over the coming weeks, the best match officials should be keeping everyone in line.

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