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comment Thank God the GAA have finally tackled cynical play in hurling - as a spectacle the game is in decline

Congress gave odd directives but positives far outweighed the negatives

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At last delegates acknowledged that hurling has a problem with cynicism. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

At last delegates acknowledged that hurling has a problem with cynicism. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

At last delegates acknowledged that hurling has a problem with cynicism. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Fed up with Covid-19 column? I thought so. Fear not. This morning I am back writing about the GAA.

Last weekend saw a changing of the guard with Larry McCarthy succeeding John Horan as president of the GAA.

So it’s a good time to reflect on Horan’s three years in office.

In the negative column he did nothing to tackle the monster that Dublin GAA has become. But a born-and-bred Dub was never going to touch that hornet’s nest.

On his watch, high-profile rows erupted over Liam Millar’s testimonial match in Cork and the ‘Newbridge or Nowhere’ issue about the venue for Kildare v Mayo in the 2018 qualifiers.

Really these were minor kerfuffles compared to the unprecedented crisis which hit the GAA during the final year of his presidency.

Maybe like Napoleon he was a lucky general. The pandemic was awful, but it enabled the GAA to solve three thorny issues which heretofore it had struggled with.

We now have a split season, thanks primarily to last year’s successful roll-out of the concept.

Spending on inter-county training has been curtailed and, better still, it will be centrally monitored from now on.

And the GPA’s wings have been clipped because their financial dig-out from Croke Park has had to be curtailed.

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Horan faced the Newbridge or Nowhere stand-off.

Horan faced the Newbridge or Nowhere stand-off.

Horan faced the Newbridge or Nowhere stand-off.

It helped enormously that Horan spent a lifetime in teaching. I know their modus operandi – after all I, too, was a teacher.

We’re conservative, cautious, slow to change and always adopt a safety-first approach.

And that’s how Horan dealt with the Covid-19 crisis.

He kept his head down, avoided antagonising anybody and didn’t do sound bites. Instead, he adopted a safety-first approach which yielded an excellent dividend.

Furthermore, Horan’s decision to appoint an expert advisory group on Covid-19 early in the pandemic was a wise move.

Behind the scenes he cultivated a close working relationship with the government which enabled the GAA to tap them for €15m – which allowed the All-Ireland championship to go ahead.

Recently, he resisted the urge to criticise the government for not including senior inter-county activity in the list of elite sports exempted under Level 5 restrictions.

My gut feeling is that the outgoing president wanted to stay on side with the government, because he knows the GAA will need financial assistance again this year.

All told, he can be happy with his legacy.

Larry McCarthy, the new president, is the first holder of the office I consider a friend.

We were first-year students together in the then National College for Physical Education in Limerick 47 years ago. I played alongside him on both the college football and hurling teams.

Though he wasn’t the greatest goalkeeper in the club – he was Mr GAA in the college.

Officially, he was club secretary/treasurer – in truth Larry did everything, from booking the buses to traveling to games to washing the jerseys.

Such was his influence that we went from being a Division 2 team in the higher-education sector to being the top club side in the country, when we won the All-Ireland club title in 1978.

He has the potential to be a very good president. Larry has no ego, no agenda and is not a publicity seeker.

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Outgoing president John Horan with successor Larry McCarthy/

Outgoing president John Horan with successor Larry McCarthy/

Outgoing president John Horan with successor Larry McCarthy/

Essentially, he is an outsider – so he doesn’t have to worry about how his decisions might impact on a specific province or county.

His work in New Jersey’s Seton Hall University – as an associate professor in sports management, marketing and sponsorship – ought to prove invaluable, given that the GAA will be stuck for money during much of his term.

He is a consensus guy who will attempt to bring people with him.

I would fret a little over the new leader’s reference in his inaugural address to ‘critics collective’ – a term he coined for former players who comment on GAA affairs in the national media.

Don’t be surprised if some of them use that phrase as a stick to beat him in the years ahead.

For now, I wish him well. I don’t envy him the task he faces.

Congress itself was the usual mixture of the good, the bad and the bizarre.

Let begin with the positives which surprisingly outweigh the other categories.

Finally, cynical play is being addressed with a penalty being awarded if a player is deemed to have been illegally denied a goalscoring opportunity inside the 20m line or the ‘D.’

Played properly, hurling is the greatest field game in the world.

When we witness a bit of magic from the likes of Joe Canning, Richie Hogan, or Cian Lynch it creates the wow factor.

But hurling is no different from any other sport – it has issues.

Like those who are devoted to rugby and horse racing, hurling aficionados are a close-knit group and all seem to know each other.

They are cheerleaders for their sport. The analysts don’t do negativity and rarely criticise.

And, of course, the favourite catch cry of the hurling fraternity is the guffaw – followed by the line ‘we don’t want to go down the same road as Gaelic football’.

To them, football is the ugly sister in the GAA family.

It drives them bonkers when football guys comment about the game of the Gods.

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Referees are already overburdened.

Referees are already overburdened.

Referees are already overburdened.

But here’s a few home truths about hurling. As a spectacle hurling is in decline.

Ground hurling is almost extinct, as is the overhead strike.

We will probably never see a goal again like John Fenton’s famous effort against Limerick in 1987.

Furthermore, there has been a decrease in the number of goals scored in championship hurling.

Due to the lighter sliotar points are being scored from the ‘next parish’.

There is far more hand-passing than striking the ball with the hurley. Worse still, most of the so-called hand-passes are blatant throws.

Hurling referees adopt an a la carte approach to their job – blowing up about one in five fouls.

And there are other issues. Some of Gaelic football’s worst tactics have infiltrated hurling.

Possession is ninth-tenths of the law – teams operate in pods and play in triangles, and there are more mauls and rucks for the sliotar than ever seen in a rugby international in the Aviva Stadium.

And, of course, we were constantly told there was no cynical play in the game. It was a case of move on, nothing to see here.

Thank God for David Hassan and his Playing Rules Committee. His evidence-based presentation proved the exact opposite.

Out of the 20 games he analysed between 2017 and 2019 almost half the fouls committed were cynical.

Last year the delegates simply ignored his excellent presentation, but this time around common sense prevailed.

I’m equally pleased that cynical play will be penalised in a similar way in Gaelic football.

There could be issues down the line, however. The new rule increases the workload on the already-overburdened referee.

Deciding whether a clear-cut goal-scoring chance has been denied is very subjective – particularly when the call has to be made in real time.

The Sunday Game’s panel will have endless cases to mull over.

My other concern is that a small minority of football referees who have prima donna tendencies will see this rule as an opportunity to take centre stage.

I was delighted too to see the Maor Foirne – or runner – get its P45. I never understood why they were allowed in the first place.

Soccer and rugby manage nicely without them. Why is football and hurling so different?

Too often they ended up being mischief makers. There was no end to the illegal activities they got up.

Take your pick from sledging opposing players, attempting to influence referees, getting involved in skirmishes, blocking the line of vision of goalkeepers and occupying space before kick-outs and puck-outs.

They behaved like preening peacocks. Good riddance.

I earned the wrath of Scotland’s GAA fraternity last year after suggesting the All-Ireland junior championship should be abolished.

The competition had become a joke so the new format is welcome.

Kilkenny together with the winners and runners-up from the British Championship, as well as a New York team composed of locally-born players, will now contest the series.

The long-term future of the GAA must cater for overseas members and this competition now has enormous potential.

Finally, the split season is set in stone from 2022. My only quibble is the July dates for the All-Ireland finals. I would prefer to see them played in August.

I have always been a critic of the GAA’s decision to take their showcase products out of the shop window for much of the year.

The only way to address this issue is for the GAA to market the club championships more aggressively.

The streamlining of these competitions, with a limit of 16 teams in senior and intermediate championships, is an idea I like as well.

But there has to be a downside of Congress’s work and I have a surprising few entrants under the bad list.

It beggars belief the GPA wanted the discussion on the cynical rule in hurling to be deferred as a majority of their players were against its introduction. I don’t get it.

I don’t agree with the rule which prohibits U-20 players from playing senior inter-county championship.

The prohibition was extended from football to hurling. It discriminates against weaker/smaller counties.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a GAA Congress without a couple of bizarre decision. Top of the list was the banning of joint-captains receiving trophies. On a list of the GAA problems it wouldn’t make the top 1,000.

Of far greater significance, though equally nuts, was the decision that footballers being sent to the sin bin will be shown a black card, whereas hurlers will be yellow-carded. Try explaining that to a visitor from Mars.

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