John Fogarty: Look-but-don’t-touch policy hinders hurling

In time, it might be termed “The UNESCO defence”.
John Fogarty: Look-but-don’t-touch policy hinders hurling

Match referee Sean Stack holds his cards during Sunday’s Allianz HL Division 1 game between Tipperary and Waterford at Semple Stadium. Despite its protestations, hurling has issues to address. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Match referee Sean Stack holds his cards during Sunday’s Allianz HL Division 1 game between Tipperary and Waterford at Semple Stadium. Despite its protestations, hurling has issues to address. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

In time, it might be termed “The UNESCO defence”.

“The sliotar needs more weight.”

“Can’t touch it, hurling is UNESCO protected.”

“The four-step rule is constantly ignored”

“Forget about it, hurling is UNESCO protected.”

“Cynicism is hurting hurling.”

“Read our lips: U-NES-CO.”

Speaking against the black card becoming a fixture in hurling on Saturday, Kilkenny chairman Jimmy Walsh adopted such a defence.

Considered an example of “intangible cultural heritage” by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation since November 2018, Walsh said hurling’s worth as a game was widely appreciated. It did not require the sin bin.

It was one of the emotive speeches against the playing rules committee’s motion, who in presenting it relied on facts and figures but its proposer, the body’s chairman David Hassan, was not a familiar hurling face.

While Antrim chairman Ciaran McCavanna played the populist card by saying the motion would be as acceptable in his county “as Joe Brolly on The Sunday Game”, Wicklow’s Jack Napier adopted a see-no-evil approach, insisting there is “very little cynical fouling in hurling”.

This after Hassan had highlighted 12 of the average 26 fouls per game last summer were of a cynical nature.

What he was selling, the hurling fraternity clearly were not buying.

Walsh went so far as to argue the importance of no players being sent off.

“The contest of 15 v 15 is what makes hurling great,” he said. “I ask the delegates to let the players play and let us privileged spectators enjoy this great sport as a spectacle.”

The affable Walsh is one of the many reasons why hurling is so strong in Kilkenny but he is misguided if he believes that each team having the same number of players is what makes the sport so beguiling.

What makes hurling great is the integrity of it, the marriage of skill with a physical but ultimately fair approach.

Hurling as a contest can never trump hurling the game. Whether his remarks about numerical equality were a nod to last year’s All-Ireland final and Richie Hogan’s sending off is a matter of interpretation but Kilkenny did challenge that red card as they successfully did Henry Shefflin’s double yellow in the 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final loss to Cork.

The irony is were there a black card last year Kilkenny would likely not have lost to Galway in Nowlan Park.

Ger Aylward might not have reacted to Aidan Harte’s trip on him and picked up a second yellow as Harte would have been sin-binned.

Kilkenny, though, are happy to die by the sword they live by. Tipperary, Limerick, and Wexford too among others. Speaking after Sunday’s win over Waterford, Liam Sheedy echoed the recent sentiments of Brian Cody, John Kiely, and Davy Fitzgerald by declaring the game was fine as it is. “We have enough cards in hurling. I think we saw it there today (three red cards were shown). There are yellows and reds and if they (referees) have to use them they can.”

Less than an hour earlier, he had seen his substitute Cian Darcy hold back Jack Prendergast in additional time as Waterford, two points down, went on the hunt for a goal. Out of goal-scoring range, the foul was wholly cynical but also the percentage and professional play.

And, as the result established, it had its desired effect.

From the black card to the advantage rule to the maor foirne, the playing rules committee via Central Council tried to change hurling at Congress. On each count, they failed. It may be another couple of seasons before another attempt is made to tackle cynicism in the game — it will at least be another three before we hear of the black card if we ever do again.

Listening to the black card opposers in Croke Park on Saturday, it was like they were defending a family member. GAA president John Horan admitted afterwards that he was disappointed with some of the deliveries against the motion but when none of the sin bin supporters, including Cork, articulated their backing of it he was convinced not to return to it in his remaining year in office.

The playing rules committee’s approach was too sterile, too cold. In highlighting what hurling needed and not what its supporters wanted, Hassan may have had a point but it was not an argument that was going to pick up votes. Besides, there had been no attempt to brief people of their findings —the number of cynical fouls, the average of almost one professional foul per game — in the lead-up to Congress.

The hurling fraternity has often felt like its sport has been an after-thought and treated for football’s ills when it has shown no symptoms itself. It now adopts a look-but-don’t-touch policy.

Tunnel vision can stop more flare-ups

A second tunnel flashpoint in the space of six weeks is sure to focus minds in the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) but it’s not as if they haven’t set out regulations about teams exiting the field at half-time.

Eight years ago, the Munster and Ulster Councils brought in the protocol of keeping one team on the field until the other side had left for the dressing room. And that approach has been recommended for all League and Championship games for some time.

Obviously, given the elements both Dublin and Tyrone in Omagh on Saturday evening wanted to retire to their dressing rooms as soon as possible but order has to be kept.

Fines will be the order of the day for the counties - Pádraig Hampsey appeared to be the only player punished for the incident with a black card - but there was a breakdown in the stewarding if not the understanding of the “Clár an Lae”.

We mentioned last month that the dressing rooms under the Hogan and Cusack Stands in Croke Park would allow teams to leave the field at the same time with the minimum of fuss.

Páirc Uí Chaoimh and the LIT Gaelic Grounds are two other venues where such bust-ups are avoided because of separate tunnels and entry points. It’s not so simple in places like Ballybofey’s MacCumhaill Park, Walsh Park in Waterford and Carlow’s Netwatch Cullen Park where there is the potential for conflict.

In such circumstances, the onus has to fall with the home team or in the event of neutral games the designated home team to remain on the field. If the game is to be presented in the best way possible on their patch, it’s the hosts’ duty to ensure it.

The charmed life of a maor foirne

If ever there was an example of a county board being in sync with their senior team management, it was provided by Limerick at Congress’ morning session on Friday.

Chairman John Cregan’s argument against the role of the running selector being disbanded was almost word-for-word what John Kiely told journalists following last Sunday week’s Division 1, Group A win over Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Kiely said: “For me, why would you do away with a particular role which is an absolutely vital role in managing the team on the day of the games to help facilitate the best possible game we can?

Just because some people are flouting the law on it.

Would you now just enforce the law?”

The motion fell just 1% shy of coming into rule in time for this year’s Championship, which on the basis of the 276 delegates who were there on Friday worked out at less than three delegates.

As GAA president John Horan said, the strength of support for ending the maor foirne was enough for the matter to be returned to.

In the meantime, expect linesmen and fourth officials to crack down on those bibbed selectors who abuse their privileges.

For what it’s worth, the rule states: “The Maor Foirne shall enter the field of play through the Substitution Zone and only when the ball has gone out of play following a score or a ‘wide’ or during a stoppage in play, which is called by the Referee for medical attention to an injured player.”

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie

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