Many in the GAA have argued that there should be a clear difference in the rules governing hurling and Gaelic football.
There are some obvious differences between the two games but how often have we heard supporters complaining about Gaelic football rules being applied to hurling.
From the beginning of 2014 the two Gaelic games codes will head in a different direction as a plethora of rule changes approved at April’s GAA Congress will apply to Gaelic football from January 1. Hurling rules remain unchanged. The feeling is that the game is fine as it is and requires no tweaking.
Despite Kilkenny’s lowly status in the Gaelic football world the new rules will apply to club games at all levels in this county also. Over the coming weeks the GAA at all levels, and especially referees, will begin to understand the scale of what lies ahead.
The changes are significant and will require bedding-in time. Patience will also be required because there will be many problems as players try to cope with the changes.
The difficulties will be more pronounced at club level rather than inter-county level. Most club players will have given little attention to the new rules. I envisage a lot of crash-courses prior to the first club game.
Most of the referee tutoring will focus on inter-county activity. The primary aim of the new rules is to eliminate cynical play. That is going to result in stern punishment for consistent transgressors.
The new rules broadly fall into six categories. The first of these sees the introduction of a black card for cynical behaviour fouls. Any player receiving a black card will be sent off and will miss the remainder of the game.
Teams will be allowed three substitutions for any player dismissed as a result of a black card being issued. Should more than three players on a team receive a black card then the team will be down a player.
Yellow and red cards are retained. Players who receive a yellow card followed by a black card will also be dismissed.
There is no shortage of substitutes at inter-county level (and up to six substitutes will now be allowed), but the situation at club level is different. When the Kilkenny football leagues commence in February, I can envisage some teams having to play with less than a full complement of players as substitutes may be scarce on the sideline for games so early in the year.
Achieving a consistent interpretation of the new rules will be the biggest challenge for all referees. Deciding between deliberate and accidental fouls will throw up its share of challenges, but ultimately this is the area in which most frustration can arise with players.
There is yet another attempt to define the Gaelic football tackle. It now appears to be much clearer, but in the heat of battle I can see many players reverting to old ways. It will take time and probably a stint on the sideline for some players to understand the new tackle rule.
The introduction of a clearer advantage rule is welcome. The final change will see players allowed to score a point with an open-handed hand-pass.
Gaelic football has been crying out for rules to eliminate the cynical behaviour of some players. After wide consultation by the FRC, consensus was reached that the rules coming into effect in January will (hopefully) change Gaelic football for the better.
Players will come under the spotlight immediately, but so too will referees, perhaps even more so than the players. This past year has not been a good one for referees and that includes hurling referees.
Most frustration could be felt at club level because some referees may not have sufficient knowledge of the new rules.
Responsibility for understanding the new rules rests with club players and officials. There is an excellent video on www.gaa.ie which outlines the new rules in some detail.
As the new rules come into effect in January I am sure many will wonder if some of them have relevance in hurling. That is a discussion for another day.