Former referee Barry Kelly wants hurling ‘red zone’ kept closer to goal

‘It’s nonsensical . . . We don’t do black cards in hurling - except we do but it’s called yellow’

Former referee Barry Kelly has said that he remains in favour of measures to combat cynical play even though the current sanction, which proved controversial at the weekend in the Tipperary-Clare Munster hurling semi-final, is very challenging for referees to adjudicate.

The incident on Sunday came early in the second half when Clare's Aidan McCarthy lunged at Tipperary forward Jake Morris, who was within a few metres of the sideline and trying to get to the ball, brought his opponent down.

McCarthy unsurprisingly got a yellow card from referee James Owens but that was followed by a direction to the sin-bin and a penalty awarded to Tipp, which Jason Forde stuck in the net and restored the lead to his team, who outscored Clare 2-4 to 0-2 during the 10 minutes of their numerical superiority.

"If there's one team you don't want to go down a man against, it's Tipperary, " said Kelly. "They use the ball so well. I wasn't expecting the sin-binning and was wondering why Aidan McCarthy was arguing about it - it was a clear yellow and if anything a fairly high-end one, maybe an orange. Then I realised the cynical play rules had been deployed."


Clare manager Brian Lohan was very critical of the decision on Sunday evening, saying that although he had no issue with the rule the interpretation had been clearly wrong.

Anyone there who didn't know anything about the game would be saying, 'he got a yellow card and he's still on the pitch but he's on a yellow card and he's off the pitch

Kelly says that he voted in favour of the rule when the proposal was discussed by his county Westmeath although the motion was rejected by the meeting.

“I spoke at the county board meeting before congress about it. I would definitely be in favour of this rule but the vote was comprehensive against it including the views of people I respect, who felt it would be too vague, too ambiguous and it would cause the scenes we saw at the weekend


“The phrase ‘clear goal scoring opportunity’ has been used but it’s not; it’s a goal scoring opportunity, which is a different thing. There’s confusion with soccer and things like ‘last man back’, which doesn’t mean a goal scoring opportunity, You can fire a goal past a couple of defenders.”

A former All-Ireland referee, Kelly says that he has always favoured measures to combat cynical fouling but even though he thinks that the weekend furore - there were two other instances in hurling semi-finals in Croke Park and Thurles but neither as contentious - will not cause the rule to be dropped, he wonders could the present provision be amended to narrow the scope of the impact.

As things stand, the foul must be within the 20-metre line or its semi-circle, which includes everywhere out to the side-lines. He thinks it might be more manageable if the ‘red zone’ was kept closer to goal.

“I spoke in an interview earlier in the year that maybe if it happened in the semi-circle of the large square, it might narrow it down. I think there’s maybe too much for a referee to consider even though I voted for it.”

He also believes that the rule was brought in, essentially to calm hurling sensibilities alarmed at importing something from football despite the sin-bin being just a version of football’s black card.

“In many ways it’s nonsensical. It’s a yellow card but it’s a black card! Anyone there who didn’t know anything about the game would be saying, ‘he got a yellow card and he’s still on the pitch but he’s on a yellow card and he’s off the pitch.

“Of course we don’t do black cards in hurling - except we do but it’s called yellow.”

Speaking up for Wexford official Owens, Kelly says that referees haven't had anything like the usual number of matches to acclimatise to the rule for championship.

“Normally referees get an average of four league matches plus a couple of subsidiary competitions so you’d have six matches under your belt by the time of championship. I’d say James Owens has refereed about two matches and he mightn’t have had this situation before.”

He also points out that referees are very rarely consulted on rule changes.

"There's been so many rule changes in the last 20 years. Referees are very rarely consulted on these things. I saw in the Sunday Times a committee being formed to look at the sliotar. Everyone's represented - Brendan Cummins as a former player - and no ref!

"Would Willie Barrett or Dickie Murphy or someone who has refereeing experience not be a good addition to that? If a player's view is included why not an official's. They bring in these rules at national level without consulting those who are going to be enforcing them."

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times