Brendan Cummins believes that the GAA will look to regulate other hurling equipment as well as the ball. As a member of the work group, which introduced and launched the smart sliotar on Thursday in Croke Park, the former Tipperary All-Ireland winning goalkeeper was asked whether, for instance, the dimensions of the hurl might be considered.
“It’s something maybe farther down the line that I think the GAA will look at. Our brief certainly was just to make sure we’d modernised the sliotar design and standardised the manufacture of it to know where it came from. We’ve done that.
“Maybe that’s an exercise the GAA can look at. I know certainly if I’m a player or free-taker, if I can get a bas that’s slightly bigger then I’m going for it and that’s what everybody is doing. For the time being that seems to be okay.”
According to rule, the bas of a hurl at its widest should not exceed 13 cms. One experienced official estimated less than a year ago that a modern bas was in some cases likely to be as much as 18 cms at its widest - 40 per cent extra and a correspondingly expanded sweet spot (optimum for striking).
At the press conference, an enquiry on the same topic – the size of the bas – had been, umm, batted away between a mock, "Don't go there"," from work group chair Ned Quinn, to a more vague, "Let's get the sliotar done first and then we'll look at the next round if we're going to do anything."
Given that GAA president Larry McCarthy said that his appointment of the committee had been prompted by concern that “the ball was being driven out of the park,” it was maybe surprising that no measures had been taken to address the distance the ball was travelling.
Cummins was quick to emphasise that the distance the ball travels is multi-factorial.
“We discussed that at the very start – so what’s impacting the distance the ball is travelling? Coefficient of restitution (the effect on the ball and its velocity of being hit) is one; it’s a piece of what is going on; obviously the size of the bas - fair enough; there is the size of the human being hitting it.
“They are training an awful lot more, they are hitting that ball against a wall; their wrists are an awful lot stronger. So you take some of the elite players at wing back: they are running towards the stand and pinging the ball over the bar, that’s because they are so big and strong and their timing is so good.”
He was involved in the field tests of the standardised sliotar. Since last July, the work group had met in 24 remote sessions for over an hour and conducted two field tests. Cummins says that the microchip in the smart ball had no identifiable effect.
“None. No difference whatsoever. When we went in first to Abbottstown, there were balls all around and I had a scorer with me. All the balls were unmarked and I had mine down in the goal. There were 11 manufacturers and I graded each ball on the way it felt.
“Then I tapped it on the hurley a few times, graded it on how that was. We had club players at that testing session as well so we’re not blind to them. We’re not all elite here. Eventually it might filter back down to them so it’s important to get every stakeholder in.
“We had the elite players there and the club players. Everybody went through the same process and we all had our score. None of us knew what ball it was and we scored it. Then we went down onto the pitch and were in a triangle hitting the ball around.
“I think there were 16 balls there from 11 manufacturers so each ball had a letter beside them and then we scored them – and we were away from each other so we never spoke to each other. I was hurling with Alan Nolan (Dublin goalkeeper) at the time and another club player. We were never near each other so we didn’t bias or influence each other in what we were doing.”
Of all the measures taken, Cummins was most pleased with the required imprimatur of the World Federation of the Sports Goods Industry, which verifies the ethical standing of suppliers – for instance that child labour is not being used.
“It is one thing me hitting a ball 100 yards but it is another thing me making sure that ball I am hitting is made to the standards we all have, from the way that labour is done and that to me is what I was happiest with when we finished the process, that we nailed that down now.”