More red tape, more gnashing of teeth ahead

I won’t bore you too long with this one, but unfortunately it raises its ugly head once more and must be reintroduced to Madame Guillotine, if I can squeeze another drop of juice from that metaphor.

More red tape, more gnashing of teeth ahead

A friend who’s a good deal better informed than yours truly — don’t all shout at once about the size of that club, thanks — pointed out to me lately that the decision to withdraw what is known as the ‘Nash rule’ motion about the placement and taking of frees in hurling from the recent GAA Congress is not the same thing as condemning said proposal to the dustbin.

Anything but, as the substantive aim of the motion is now to be considered by another body which is considerably more opaque in its operation than Congress: the exact phrase from the GAA’s website regarding the rule is this: “Central Council will provide an interpretation of Rule 4.25 in due course.”

Expect this matter to pop up again, then, after that Central Council meeting, which takes place on March 22.

What will the ruling be?

We can’t say with any certainty, but it’s a very tricky situation, in that if Central Council interpret said rule in a radically different way — if, for the sake of argument, it suggested referees enforce a regime where penalty-strikers are kept behind the 21 metre line and only make contact with the sliotar at or before that line — then you would have two different sets of rules in operation in one season.

Last weekend, for instance, Cork beat Laois in the National Hurling League, and the Leinster county won a first-half penalty. Goalkeeper Eoin Reilly took the penalty and lifted the ball past the 21-metre line (not as far as Nash has done in the past, of course, because the Kanturk man’s mysterious North Cork voodoo powers... I’ll stop).

Anyway, Reilly’s shot was saved. There’d be a nice irony involved if Nash had been the one to stop it, but it was Darren McCarthy who got his stick to the ball.

However, if Reilly’s shot had gone in and Laois gone on to win, how fair would that be to penalty-takers operating after Central Council rule on the matter?

How fair is it to have two separate and discrete regimes covering what are, by definition, likely to be extremely significant passages of play in high-octane championship games?

Still, the question, ‘what are they likely to decide,’ is already being superceded by a far more relevant one: is this nonsense ever going to end?

Time to bring order to rules anomalies

Last week, I wrote about UCC winning the Sigerson Cup, and alluded to the fact there have been, over the years, occasional wrangles about player eligibility and so forth.

This matter gave rise to one of the great examples of GAA humour, though it’s with superhuman effort that I keep the inverted commas away from the word humour.

It concerns a college which many years ago hired in a seasoned intercounty veteran to stiffen the sinews in its bid for glory. After this hairy cornflake had caused mayhem early on, his nervous marker asked what subject he was studying.

“Sums,” was the reply (I know, sure we all thought Hal Roach was funny that time).

Anyway, player eligibility issues aren’t always a synonym for some class of skullduggery, of course. Since that piece I chatted to someone who’s spent years with one of the third-level institutions and he pointed out that prospective players are often outflanked by some intricate rules which govern their freedom to play: the same man was able to provide examples of players who had changed academic tack in mid-stream and who, as a result, find themselves excluded from wearing their college jersey.

Part of the problem seems to be that different institutions seem governed by different rules of eligibility, and I don’t say that with tongue in cheek or grinning sarcastically, but by definition there isn’t much common ground in the governance of an institute of technology, a teacher training college and a university.

I know that sounds like the opening of a joke, incidentally. That’s why I wrote it that way.

Another part of the problem is that there’s also an element of people paying relatively little attention to anomalies in what was seen once as an elitist competition played out between a handful of colleges.

No longer, though. The number of participants in third-level competition — both players on the field and colleges taking part — mean that there’s not only more notice taken of what occurs there, on and off the field, but the competitions aren’t the playgrounds of the privileged they were, even 40 years ago.

And anyway, even if it were a tournament featuring Hogwart’s, Eton and the industrial school in the Butcher Boy, a little consistency in the rules wouldn’t go amiss.

It’s not easy for whistleblowers

I was down in Cork Constitution last Saturday for the home side’s clash with Old Belvedere in the AIL, and for Alain Rolland’s last game refereeing in Cork.

The well-known official is moving on to fresh fields, so Cork Con made a nice presentation to him in the clubhouse bar afterwards, and I had a good chat with him then: you’ll be reading the results in these pages soon (and thanks to John O’Mahony and the lads in Con for giving us a handy office to chat in).

One interesting side-issue that popped up in our chat was the notion of letting the game flow, and how that’s often a synonym for good refereeing. Rolland disagreed, pointing out teams are clever enough to pick up on what is and what isn’t being enforced, and one thing can lead to another on a ‘well, we can get away with this, so...’ basis.

This writer, like so many others, has a lazy bias towards the notion that the best refereeing displays are those given — in all sports — by officials you don’t even notice, but of course that’s a dangerous generalisation: you referee what the teams give you, as Rolland said, but to what extent do we take that on?

Even when it’s not ‘our’ team which is playing, how quickly we all blame the referee if a game becomes broken and stop-start, without considering the intent and purpose of the participants.

Top tips for reading material

I got a few sharp texts the other evening, having appeared on The Book Show on RTÉ talking about sports books — Irish sports books, American, and so forth. Many thanks to the producers for letting me set my biases free, too.

I’ve mentioned here in the past that the annual Best American Magazine Writing compilation is, for me, the one sports book that I buy every year. even though it only features a couple of sports stories in each edition. If you’re looking for a book on one subject, though — which was what one of my texters asked me on Saturday evening — then I have to stick to my guns: David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49. Or October 1964.

Or both, preferably.

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