Kieran Shannon: Hurling must rethink the crossbar challenge

Now that it’ll be yellow from next summer on, the sliotar should be a lot easier to track — but even with the advent of such a smart ball, there’s probably an even smarter solution when another Brian Hogan incident arises.

Kieran Shannon: Hurling must rethink the crossbar challenge

Now that it’ll be yellow from next summer on, the sliotar should be a lot easier to track — but even with the advent of such a smart ball, there’s probably an even smarter solution when another Brian Hogan incident arises.

You’ll probably remember there was a bit of a hullabaloo last summer about whether or not the ball had already dropped over the Hill 16 end crossbar before the Tipperary goalkeeper hauled it down against both Wexford and Kilkenny in Croke Park, but just how disruptive it was to the flow of the game is something that time has probably already obscured.

In the semi-final against Wexford, 27 seconds had elapsed from the time Hogan had grabbed the ball from a Lee Chin free to John McGrath finishing to the net at the far end of the field. A terrific piece of goalkeeping at one end of the field had been matched by a supreme piece of skill at the other as John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer offloaded to McGrath, only for them all to count for zero.

A Hawk-Eye review deemed Chin’s free a point, and thus McGrath’s goal null and void. In the All-Ireland final something similar happened. Hogan leapt up to catch a John Donnelly attempted point above his own crossbar, only for Hawk-Eye to retrospectively rule that it had been a point.

As it would turn out, it was hardly pivotal: Tipperary won comfortably. But it could have been, prompting many to ask: what if it had been at a provincial ground where there was no Hawk-Eye?

Amid all the commotion around the Hogan incidents though, there was a question that wasn’t being asked — one which would save both the GAA a lot of money and time installing or reviewing Hawk-Eyes, and hurling umpires a whole lot of bother: What if goalkeepers were allowed to haul or bat the ball down, even if had it already crossed over the bar?

While looking at what we will call ‘The Brian Hogan Dilemma’, cast your mind back to what we’ll call ‘The Johnny Sexton Incident’. An early 10-0 blitz from New Zea-land had Ireland reeling early on in their World Cup quarter-final in Japan when Sexton had the chance to kick a penalty to the corner and set up a try-scoring opportunity.

Only he didn’t find touch. The ball had gone over the endline, but crucially hadn’t found touch. With a moment of ingenuity, the All Blacks’ Richie Mo’Unga, his feet still in play, hauled the ball back into play, setting in motion what would turn out to be a second try for his team.

Hogan’s play against Wexford was like that of Mo’Unga, just as Chin’s was like Sexton’s. The freetaker had failed to put the ball dead, although the ball had crossed the line they targeted.

A brilliant leap and use of the hand had hauled the ball back into play before it had landed. The only difference is, Mo’Unga’s act was rewarded; ultimately Hogan’s was punished.

It isn’t that long ago when goalkeepers wouldn’t have dared to challenge the crossbar like Hogan did. It’s somewhat ironic now, Tipp having won an All-Ireland with a Sheedy in charge and a Hogan in goal, but a couple of years before Hogan’s father Ken assumed the Tipperary number one jersey, the position was occupied by Sheedy’s brother, John.

And cruelly for John, before he’d play an instrumental part in the backroom of successful Portroe and Tipperary U21 teams, he was best known for decades for his decision to not let a Tony O’Sullivan attempted point in the 1984 Munster final go over the bar. Instead, he stretched to knock it down, only to leave him unbalanced and his goal wide open for Sean O’Leary to pull to an empty net and level the game.

The whole momentum of the game swung at that moment. Cork would eventually win that game and the All-Ireland, while Tipp would have to wait a further three years to end the famine, during which time every goalkeeper in the country came to the conclusion: leave such points go, and the goals won’t come. Don’t challenge the crossbar. Don’t be another John Sheedy.

Dónal Óg Cusack would challenge such conventional thinking, as he would routinely rebel against other traditions throughout the noughties. Early on in that decade, he saw a Barry Foley sideline cut sail an inch over his crossbar to knock Cork out of the championship on its first day, and then two years later saw Tommy Walsh again score the opening point of the All-Ireland final, his effort having barely scraped over the bar.

After that, Cusack decided that he’d challenge the crossbar, either by trying to catch it or bat it down to the side.

Famously such an approach be rewarded at the death of the 2006 All-Ireland semi-final when he denied a long-range Ken McGrath free from (definitively) going over the bar. The score that day was 1-16 to 1-15, just as it had been when Foley and Limerick had foiled Cork five years earlier.

The difference between being on the right side of that scoreline and not had been the bravery to challenge both convention and the crossbar. It was in that spirit and new tradition that Brian Hogan hauled down those two attempted points in last year’s All-Ireland series, and it’s a spirit that should be encouraged and rewarded.

Of course in the case of an attempted goal, a goal should be awarded if the ball has already passed the goalline. But if a player successfully prevents an attempted point from going dead as Hogan did last summer, then the rules, as well as the attitude of the GAA, should be: fair fecks to him, however he got it down and stopped it.

Save, no point. Play on.

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