13-a-side teams and a heavier sliotar could aid small-ball game
Liam Sheedy’s hurling review group should introduce zero tolerance on illegal handpassing and look at new specifications for sliotars to cut the distance of deliveries
MARTIN BREHENY – PUBLISHED 26 MARCH 2014 02:30 AM
When Liam Sheedy and his newly-appointed hurling review group come to organise their plans and targets, they will probably draw a clear distinction between what they can actually achieve as opposed to what they would like to achieve.
There’s a significant difference between the two when it comes to the workings of the GAA. The Eugene McGee-chaired Football Review Committee made a pragmatic decision to pursue reachable objectives rather than propose radical alternatives which would be vetoed by the forces of conservatism.
As a result, the FRC made modest, if important gains, whereas a more far-reaching package of proposals – however merited they might be – would have almost certainly been zapped.
Sheedy & Co will probably adopt the same principles for hurling on the basis that one bird of change in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Happily, this column is not subject to such considerations, so here are suggestions on how hurling might break free of its seven deadly sins.
1. FEWER BODIES
Reduce teams to 13-a-side. Faster, stronger, fitter players frequently bring about a situation where the man in possession is suffocated, while there has also been a substantial increase in unsightly rucks where a large group shovel furiously in an attempt to get the ball in hand. It usually ends in a throw-in after 10-15 sterile seconds, which is totally repugnant to hurling’s free-flowing constitution.
The relentless closing down of space has impacted negatively on the execution of skills and brought nothing to the game.
Cutting the number of players would encourage a more open game where genuine artistry would enjoy room to breathe. The 13-a-side game isn’t new territory, having been used at colleges’ level on an experimental basis in the early 1970s.
Indeed, among the winners in the 13-a-side era was a certain Brian Cody, a defensive anchor on the St Kieran’s, Kilkenny team that won the 1971 All-Ireland title. Also aboard was Nickey Brennan, future All-Ireland winner and GAA President.
2. NEW BALLS, PLEASE
‘Babs’ Keating has been on this case for years, complaining that the modern ball travels so far that it has all but wiped out midfield play, thus squeezing the main action areas and leading to more bunching.
He’s right. Also, because the ball travels huge distances, it spends more time in the air than its heavier predecessor, scarcely one of hurling’s more entertaining features.
Manufacturing technology, rather than policy decisions, has changed one of hurling’s fundamentals. It’s time for the law-makers to re-assert themselves by ordering new ball specifications which cuts the distance of deliveries by at least 20pc.
3. SLEIGHT OF HAND
Why do so many handpasses look like throws? Because that’s what they are. Why aren’t more of them penalised? Because referees find it difficult to make a definitive call and, when in doubt, they give the benefit of the doubt to the passer. As a result, players and public become frustrated when referees blow for a dodgy pass as many others go unpunished. It’s time for a zero-tolerance clampdown on illegal handpassing.
4. SPARE THE TIMBER
There’s a rule which specifies the maximum size of a hurley bas, but it’s a paper regulation only as pre-match checks never take place. The lack of enforcement allows goalkeepers, a species with a vested interest in flashing the ash, to flout the rule.
It could easily be sorted out by umpires inspecting the size of goalkeepers’ hurleys in the warm-up. Once applied consistently, the rule would be self-policed, with goalies accepting there was no point in trying it on with outsized hurleys.
5. ONE MAN, ONE JOB
Why do football goalkeepers have to face penalties on their own while their hurling counterparts have two assistants? It’s down to the different ball size and the speed it travels, but it’s not working in hurling where there’s an on-going controversy over where a penalty is struck from.
Why not force the taker to strike the ball off the ground with only the goalkeeper in goal? It would be just as exciting as the current situation while also raising the standard of ground-striking.
6. FIXTURE FOLLY
By the end of next Sunday, when the clocks go forward to signal the end of winter, Division 1 counties will have completed more than half of their inter-county programme for the year.
Some counties could end up with as few as two more games in 2014.
The bizarre system which shoehorns so much action into the first three months of the year defies logic. Sheedy’s group should tackle it on behalf of the small-ball brigade.
7. BLACK CARD
It’s working in football so why not in hurling? If, as many in the hurling fraternity insist, it’s not required in their game, it will remain redundant. In which case, there’s no need to fear it, so why oppose an anti-cynicism device when it’s a deterrent only?