GAA officials manager expects bedding in period for new rules

‘Cynical denial of goalscoring opportunity’ rule change likely to cause plenty of debate

Donal Smyth, the GAA's national match officials manager, says that referees, linesmen and umpires will improve as the season progresses.

Their responsibility for the coming league includes the imposition of a number of new measures, including the potentially controversial ‘cynical denial of goalscoring opportunity’ which is being trialled this year in both hurling and football.

Hurling is, however, first up at the weekend and Smyth says that the lack of matches is as much an issue for referees as it is for players.

“The issue they were finding in some of the in-house matches was the players didn’t understand the situation and one of them was telling me that he asked one of the players to pull down an opponent inside the semi-circle, just to see what the reaction was, and there was mayhem.


“Nobody had a clue what was going to happen next. They didn’t realise it was a penalty. How do you communicate that out? Referees are a resilient bunch and then, of course, you’re dealing with the top referees in the country and they have talked it out, discussed it between themselves.

“The fitness tests were great last week. We’re hoping that things will go well but there’s no doubt, when I have the hurling referees in again next week, there will be incidents after the weekend and there’ll be incidents the following week but we’ll constantly get better as we’re going on.”

He emphasises that the situation will be a judgment call. Limerick manager John Kiely, referring to a high-profile incident in last year's All-Ireland final when Will O'Donoghue took down Waterford's Stephen Bennett, said that the incident, which has been used as an exemplar for preventing a goal-scoring opportunity, didn't in his opinion satisfy the requirement because other defenders could have intervened.

“Clearcut in refereeing as you well know, is an opinion. In that circumstance – and I prefaced that at the start when I said hurling and football are going to be different, because of the pace of the ball – when he [Bennett] pucks that ball, it’s going at 100 miles per hour.

“Is it a goal-scoring opportunity at that stage? It probably is for me in that circumstance. Even if there is a defender there, can he get across? Is he in a position to save it? If he does, it’s a fair save.”

Smyth deals with anomalies, like the fact that tugging a jersey doesn’t count as a relevant cynical foul, which must be one of the following: pulling down an opponent, tripping an opponent with the hand, arm, leg, foot or hurley or to use the hurley in a careless manner.

He also fields a question about referee David Gough’s cavil that an actual red-card infraction, committed outside the 20-metre line would result in a sending off but not a penalty.

“It’s correct to say that if it is a red card and it’s in that circumstance, the penalty is a free-in and he’s sent off. The referee can only referee the rules that he has and he can’t surmise anything else.”

His attitude to the new expanded advantage rule appears a bit weary. As well as a clear goal-scoring opportunity there is also advantage for ‘creating and capitalising on time and space’.

“The reality is, that is what the rule is at the moment and congress decided in their wisdom that that’s the way they wanted the game refereed.”

He didn’t believe that the extension of the temporary replacement to include head injuries would lead to teams taking advantage of the ability to make more substitutions.

“Ah, we wouldn’t be in a great state if we were using medical issues to get an advantage on another team. I think player welfare is the most important thing we deal with.”

Rules changes 2021

  • Denying an opponent a goalscoring opportunity by a cynical act of depriving an opponent of a goalscoring opportunity within the 20-metre line or its arc. A penalty is awarded against the offending player as well as a yellow card and 10 minutes in the sin bin (trial in 2021 intercounty season).
  • The advantage rule has been amended to apply only when a) there is a clear goalscoring opportunity or b) the fouled player has time and space (at all levels).
  • Temporary substitutions for head injuries (at all levels).
  • Team officials' misconduct now liable for yellow and red cards (this year for intercounty only – club from next year).
  • Interfering with puck-outs and kick-outs to be punished by bringing forward the restart (at all levels).
  • Adding 'racist, sectarian or anti-inclusion' to the rule on provocative behaviour or language.
  • Recategorising 'striking' and 'attempting to strike' infractions into 'minimal force' and 'force or causing injury'.
  • Allowing matches to begin in circumstances of unavailability or late arrival as long as teams have 13 players.
Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times