Safety concerns over penalties force GAA to act

Croke Park hopes to have a new ruling on the matter in place in time for weekend fixtures

Clare goalkeeper Patrick Kelly saves a penalty from Cork’s Anthony Nash during last year’s All-Ireland final. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Clare goalkeeper Patrick Kelly saves a penalty from Cork’s Anthony Nash during last year’s All-Ireland final. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Tue, Jun 10, 2014, 14:43

The GAA is to take action to address the safety aspects of penalty and 20-metre free taking in hurling. After further controversy at the weekend, Croke Park hopes to have a new ruling on the matter approved in time for the weekend’s hurling championship fixtures, which will see Cork and Clare renew their All-Ireland rivalry from last year.

In a statement issued last night the association said that it would consider the matter this week with a view to having a definitive interpretation in place.

“Arising from concerns in relation to implementation of the playing rules of hurling in respect of the taking of penalty pucks and free pucks from the 20-metres line, the Management Committee of the GAA will recommend interpretation of rules to Central Council to address these concerns.

“It is envisaged that this process will be completed as quickly as possible and in advance of this weekend’s games.”

The prevailing situation has been sharply criticised by this newspaper’s hurling analyst Nicky English (see right), who believes that the practice of flicking the ball well beyond the 20-metre line before striking it has the potential to cause serious injury and is a particular worry below the elite levels of the game where younger and less skilful players find themselves defending such strikes, which have become increasingly popular over the past year.

A motion to this year’s congress to address the issue was withdrawn for procedural reasons but also under heavy criticism from Cork, who construed the move as being directed at their goalkeeper Anthony Nash who had become most associated with the technique.

The latest controversy to arise came in Sunday’s Cork-Waterford Munster quarter-final when Nash’s penalty was saved by his opposite number Stephen O’Keeffe, who sprinted out from goal to block the shot.

The incident led to a flashpoint and confrontation in which referee Johnny Ryan would have been entitled to show red cards.

Nash’s technique of looping the ball forward and hitting it anything up to eight metres inside the 20-metre line has become a major issue since the practice came to prominence in last year’s All-Ireland hurling final over the draw and replay of which in which he scored two goals.

Clare tried a couple of strategies: Nash’s opposite number Patrick Kelly rushed him in the first match and Cork protested afterwards that he hadn’t kept the prescribed 20-metre distance. In the replay Clare lined the goalmouth and used especially large hurls to defend a 20-metre free which Nash none the less scored.

On RTE’s Sunday Game two nights ago a statement from the GAA was read to the effect that refereeing interpretations of similar incidents would allow a defender to rush the striker as soon as the ball was tipped up rather than when it was struck.

This was criticised on the programme by pundit and former Clare manager Ger Loughnane, who forecast it would lead to mayhem.

“So we’re facing a summer of goalmouth shemozzles if this isn’t addressed. The GAA should address it; they shouldn’t wait until next year’s congress. They should address it immediately.”

There has been widespread concern expressed on the subject by a number of former inter-county goalkeepers, including two Cork legends former Hurler of the Year Ger Cunningham and Dónal Cusack.

“Someone is going to get a belt of a ball,” said Cunningham last week. “And you would have to have some fears for health and safety. I don’t think that is over the top.

“We see when Anthony throws it up, like he did against Tipp in the league semi-final, he goes well forward. What’s to say the next fella won’t throw it in even further? So I think it is an issue, and the GAA will have to look at it.”

Another legendary goalkeeper Kilkenny’s Noel Skehan made a similar plea when he was inducted into the GAA Museum Hall of Fame last April:

“It has to be brought to a halt and if it’s not brought to a halt quickly there’s going to be an injury and I can tell you as soon as that injury happens all hell will break loose and all these guys who are pro the ball being thrown 10 yards ahead they’ll be gone to ground. They won’t be heard or seen.”

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