Eddie Keher’s ideas have kick-started a debate on the future of the game
From an administrative point of view, how great is the gulf between football and hurling?
Former Kilkenny player Eddie Keher congratulates Clara’s Lester Ryan after the 2013 Kilkenny senior hurling final. Photograph: Inpho
Brian Cody’s now annual reflection on the threat to physicality in hurling and his endorsement of Eddie Keher’s manifesto on liberating the game’s inner manliness touch on an issue that’s becoming relevant to the eternal challenge of maintaining discipline in Gaelic games.
How big is the difference between football and hurling?
It’s something about which we hear a great deal. There are obvious parallels and obvious dissimilarities but from an administrative point of view, how great is the gulf?
Both games are administered by the same organisation and are frequently played together in the same clubs. They share a playing arena, a scoring system and on-field positions.
Yet the insistence appears to be that despite all that football and hurling have in common, there remains an intangible, almost spiritual distinction – as if by taking up the ash and putting on a helmet, a player assumes a nobler disposition, a more refined aesthetic.
As a result, the problems that trouble football are often said to be peculiar to that game – brawling and unsightly, as it is presented.
That perception was sufficient to sink the proposed disciplinary reforms of five years ago when just under two-thirds of congress voted to get tougher on cynical fouling and many delegates spoke of their concerns in that regard.
Current GAA president Liam O’Neill chaired the group that brought forward those proposals and the experience equipped him well for one of the major initiatives of his term of office.
When he set up the Football Review Committee to instigate a major consultative process on the state of the game, it was made clear that any issues and their proposed resolution would apply only to football.
That has led to the current situation, which for the first time sees a significant difference in the way in which the two games treat indiscipline. The black card – introduced for cynical fouls – is now well into its second month and so far the sky hasn’t fallen.
O’Neill has been frank enough to advocate importing the measure into hurling but sufficiently realistic to see that there isn’t at present the likely support within the game to support such a move.
A curious focus in Eddie Keher’s document – which Kilkenny manager Brian Cody praised as “making an awful lot of sense” – which he submitted to the GAA is on red and yellow cards, described in the submission as “totally at variance with the ethos, physicality and manliness of the game of hurling”.
“I should mention that I was never in favour of cards in the first place,” writes Keher, a multi-decorated hurler, “and I contend that the 2013 season in particular has confirmed that they are not compatible with Gaelic games.