Just as the National Hurling League was about to start what we hope will be another memorable season, coloured cards became a major topic.
Judging by the reaction of the GAA President Liam O’Neill we could be in for a long debate on how the ancient game is to be played in the future.
The furore which developed is not actually about cards but rather the rules of hurling. Cards are used to demonstrate refereeing decisions to spectators, and if they were scrapped tomorrow would anybody care? Scrapping the cards, though, would not change the fundamentals of the rules.
The debate as to whether hurling has lost some of its physical lore did not start with the recent correspondence from former Kilkenny star, Eddie Keher to the GAA authorities in Croke Park.
It has been on-going for years but the debate moved up several notches with Keher’s correspondence, plus Brian Cody’s support for the comments during a recent media briefing.
When two of hurling’s top names speak in unison on what they see as unnecessary tampering with the game it clearly prompted Liam O’Neill to enter the debate. I was somewhat surprised at the GAA President’s immediate reaction. However, he was caught between a rock and a hard place.
Failing to comment could be construed as not caring about a game the President clearly cherishes. But in reacting as he did, there will be expectations that changes will be forthcoming to the rules.
The GAA President spoke of the successful process used by the Football Development Committee, so it will be understandable if a hurling review takes on a similar process. Such a process would involve wide consultation with the broad hurling fraternity.
I would not attempt to contemplate what changes might be put forward, but it is far from certain how many proposals, if any, would get support at GAA Congress. That is the forum which will ultimately approve any rule changes.
Talk about introducing black cards into hurling is a complete red herring.
As regards hurling having lost its physicality, this is a subject of varying opinions. Some people share the views of Eddie Keher and Brian Cody but many others disagree. Diverse opinions will make any forthcoming debate very interesting.
Not driven by Kilkenny
It would be wrong, though, if people see the upcoming debate on hurling’s future as an issue being driven by Kilkenny. Other prominent hurling men such a Galway’s Cyril Farrell also have concerns that the current rules militate against a physical approach.
From a timing perspective it is difficult to be talking about the rules against a backdrop of last year’s two All-Ireland finals which delivered incredible excitement and clearly enthralled the country at large.
It would be unfair to Cork and Clare to say both games were not physical, but they could not compare to some of the teak-tough physical encounters we saw over the previous decade.
In terms of entertainment it would be difficult to surpass the quality of both games last September. However, it can equally be argued that the concession of so many goals hinted at questionable defending.
Hurling is not an exact science. Is there any point in arguing which game – Cork v Clare twice last September or Kilkenny v Tipperary on a number of occasions in recent years – provided the more entertaining fare? They all provided terrific excitement and entertainment.
There is some validity in the argument that some of the rules of hurling are excessively ‘finicky’, thus making life difficult for referees. Some match officials had difficulties last year with a couple of incorrectly issued red cards which are now the catalyst for the debate.
The format used by the FDC was rightly lauded for the comprehensive way it engaged with all stakeholders. It would make sense to adopt a similar approach with any hurling review. The composition of the group entrusted with a review rests with the President. I hope it includes Keher and Cody. Both have strong views so they should be involved.