The top 10 unofficial rules of the GAA that referees must observe

New to the game? Puzzled with some refereeing decisions? We’re here to help

With the recent advent of Sky Sports covering GAA matches, we’ve noticed (even more) puzzlement with some refereeing decisions. The problem is many of the rules of hurling and football are not in the official rulebook. They are handed from generation to generation.

Here are 10 of the most important unofficial rules of the game that GAA referees traditionally observe.

1 If any team breaks a deadlock by scoring as time runs out, the referee shall give the losing side a chance to square the match. Should the winning team gain possession from the puck/ kick-out, it is okay to blow the full-time whistle. But it is considered bad form to end the match if the losing side has the ball.

Known as the . . . One for the road rule.


2 It is, of course, a foul for a player going up for a high ball to knee an opposing player in the back or elbow them in the face . . . unless they catch it. Then, well, fair play.

Known as the . . . Machiavelli rule.

3 player is not fouling the ball if an opposing player is fouling them at the same time. Therefore, a referee will not start counting steps a player takes with the ball in hand until the opposing player has let go of their jersey.

Known as the . . . What's good for the goose rule.

3A Subsection to the above rule: The more likely a player is to score a goal, the more steps the referee will allow them to take with ball in hand.

Known as the . . . Forwards rule! rule.

4 One-on-one fights are the responsibility of the referee. However anything involving more than two or three players can be construed as a melee and the referee only has to note its occurrence for a later committee.

Known as the . . . One death is a tragedy, 30 is a statistic rule.

5 The only thing on the ref's mind when throwing in a sliotar is not getting hit himself. Where it goes, or who else gets hit, is not his problem.

Known as the . . . Every man for himself rule.

6 Players should try not to get on the wrong side of the umpires. Apart from them possibly having to make a 50-50 call later in the game, one of them is probably the referee's lift home.

Known as the . . . My mate's the boss rule.

7 Umpires can change their minds at any time. They may for example, put their hand up to draw the referee's attention to an off-the-ball incident . However, if the referee doesn't notice the signal inside a minute, it's perfectly acceptable to put their arm down and forget the incident ever happened.

Known as the . . . My arm is getting sore rule.

8 If the crowd loudly complains that a free-taker has stolen a few extra yards before placing the ball, the referee will insist the player retreats even if he didn't see it happen. GAA referees trust the crowd more than the player.

Known as the . . . Home town benefits rule.

9 After awarding a free, the ref may bring the ball forward 13 metres for dissent. However, no referee is expected to know how far 13 metres is – anywhere between five metres and half the length of the pitch is considered acceptable. Unlike soccer, no magic spray needed.

Known as the . . . A piece of string rule.

10 A referee is legally obliged to play at least one minute of injury time. A rule of thumb is – one minute of added time if there have been no stoppages; two minutes if there has been anything up to 10 minutes of hold-ups during the half; and three minutes if the game had to be held up because there was an ambulance on the pitch earlier.

Known as the . . . Time stands still rule .


September Road is certainly not anti-soccer, but watching the World Cup finals has brought us to one conclusion.

Despite having to make more decisions, and cope with a higher number of players, who are operating at a faster pace on a bigger pitch, GAA referees – particularly the ones operating at intercounty level – are over-criticised and under-appreciated, and are, without a shadow of doubt, far superior to those in charge of the whistles in Brazil this month.


Now that we’ve complimented GAA referees (and at the risk of being hypocritical), we thought we’d share some of the more original taunts of hurling and football referees we’ve heard/collected/stolen.

We’re not talking about the everyday, common-as-muck taunts that we’ve overheard many times – the “Wake up referee” and the “You must have got that whistle for Christmas/your birthday/some other occasion”.

No, we mean the ones that required planning, timing and the perfect execution – starting with probably our favourite:

“I don’t know what your problem is ref, but I bet it’s hard to pronounce!”

“You would be out of your depth in a puddle.”

“Your picture is going to be on milk cartons in the morning.”

“I thought only cows and horses went to sleep standing up!”

“Referee! Your baler is out of twine.”

“Sure, stay where you are ref, I’m sure at some stage the ball will make its way down to you.”

“You couldn”t find your own arse cheeks with both hands and a flashlamp.”


Conor Mortimer @Conmort

Good win for Monaghan good game yet .. It's about a poor ref again

Colm Cooper @colmcooper13

Big win for Monaghan today over there big ulster rivals Tyrone.The excellent Drew Wylie impressed me throughout @eircom_GAA #YourShoutCounts

Colm Cooper @colmcooper13

Tyrone to do what Tyrone do - go on a run in the qualifiers and find there way to Croke park for Qtr finals.

Philip Jordan @PhilipJordan7

In summary Tyrone are cynical & got what they deserved, they try to buy frees, ref doesn’t have to add on time for players down injured...

Dónal Óg Cusack ?@DonalOgC

Solid from Dublin...Wexford can take encouragement from the performance...#Hurling #gaa btw Wexford Park great venue

Cavan Hurling Dev @CavanHurlingDev

Bad day at the office for our U21 however progress was made and we are one step away from a senior team

Joe Canning @JoeyCan88

Privileged to be a part of #SOGames2014 with

these two legends @tomas5ky and John hayes #welldoneeveryone

Ben Nall @BenNall79

First time watching Hurling on Sky Sports 3. From what I can gather it is a sport that involves lots of guys having a pub fight on grass

Bernard Dunne @Bernard_Dunne

There’s not many better ways to spend a Sunday. #ClarevCork #GAA #Hurling

Damian Cullen

Damian Cullen

Damian Cullen is Health & Family Editor of The Irish Times