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2 October 2008 Edition

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Radical proposals for 2009 GAA season

NOW that the inter-county championships are finished, a special GAA Congress is being held this Saturday to decide on a number of radical proposals for 2009. Probably the most important of these is to allow Galway and Antrim to take part in the Leinster hurling championship.
This is being sold primarily on the basis that it will benefit the game in Antrim and lead to greater competitiveness although what, other than forcing Kilkenny players to play in deep-sea diving boots, can really be done to address the Cats’ superiority is not clear. Like Arkle, there is no realistic handicap that can redress the imbalance that is the consequence of brilliance.
The only thing we can do is to wait for Brian Cody to take up hang-gliding and for Kilkenny to experience a relative decline in standards or hunger. And that really is the crux of the matter because Wexford, Offaly and Dublin want to be the ones to take down the dying stag. Throwing Galway into the mix will change that, especially if the potential apparent in Galway with so many under-age players on-stream is realised.
Assuming that all of the Connacht and Ulster teams support the motion, it will have at least 16 votes as Kilkenny and Longford will also vote for it. It would then require all of the Munster counties as well as those from England and the States to oppose it, which they might do on the basis that a majority of Leinster hurling counties are against it.

THE other major change proposed is to introduce a new rule governing the issuing of yellow cards.
The offences listed are “to pull down an opponent, to trip an opponent with hand(s), foot or hurley, to deliberately body collide with an opponent after he has played the ball away or for the purpose of taking him out of a movement of play, to bring an arm (or hurley) around the neck of an opponent, to wrestle with an opponent, on the ground, and away from the play to remonstrate in an aggressive manner with a match official”.
The most radical aspect, however, is that any player issued with a yellow card will be substituted. And to allow for this the number of subs permitted will be increased to six. That could have profound impact on the games, especially at club level. Club teams often struggle to field a bare 15 so the new rule could result in a few 10-a-side matches.
Of course, the argument will be that if it works as a deterrent then the above scenario will not apply. It is clearly designed to deal with some of the more cynical tactics employed and particularly with players impeding opponents á la American football by preventing them making runs and following the ball. There could, however, be problems with that if it is applied strictly as it technically also covers what most regard as the legitimate use of the body to prevent forwards following a ball to the end line.  

I WOULD also tend to the view that the same measures do not need to be applied to hurling as to football. You only need to compare the average number of frees and the amount of hold-ups in football as compared to hurling to see that hurling does not require the same measures to encourage openness and fair play.
A lot of people would also like to have seen some attempt to tackle the growing level of what might charitably be described as ‘gamesmanship’ but which in reality is good old-fashioned cheating and bad sportsmanship. The main examples being diving and feigning injury in order to get an opponent penalised, exaggerating or feigning injuries in order to disrupt play and run down the clock, and our old friend ‘sledging’.
Players who the referee or other officials believe to be engaged in any of the above should be booked and subject to the same sanctions that apply to other bookable offences. That might not totally eliminate the practices in question but it would certainly reduce them and, more importantly, it would make it clear to young players that diving and roaring abuse about someone’s sister is not actually acceptable behaviour to be emulated in the under-10 league.
I would also like to see, on a trial basis, the introduction of the same timing system that is applied in women’s football where the clock is stopped for hold-ups. That would probably do more in fact to combat time-wasting than booking offenders. But none of this is down for debate and I am not sure whether the committees responsible for the proposals have ever even considered them.
And, finally, congratulations to Cork, Tipperary and London in winning the three women’s titles last Sunday. Cork claimed their fourth in a row, which is all the more remarkable given that they only won their first in 2005!

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