Last weekend was a big one for the GAA. Special Congress made some very real and important decisions and in my opinion most of them were of a very progressive nature.
The biggest decision from a hurling perspective was the vote that now allows Galway and Antrim to play in the Leinster championship for a three year trial period starting in 2009. Galway team captain David Collins had spoken strongly on the matter at the meeting called to discuss the proposal in Galway and his leadership and strong views were a key factor in getting the Galway hurling board and more importantly the club delegates to support the matter.
A big winner last Saturday from that perspective was GAA president Nicky Brennan who was very pleased that his proposals had been adopted.
After the historic vote he said; “I’m particularly pleased that at long last we have a structure that’s good for Antrim and Galway. I believe it’ll prove to be a very good decision, but I’ll be a hurler on the ditch when the issue comes back on the agenda at 2011 congress”.
From a Galway outlook it makes a lot of sense to try and freshen things up as the current format has just not been doing the business for them. The county has not won the Liam McCarthy since 1988 and anything that they believe will help alleviate that fact should be investigated.
Despite Galway’s excellent record at underage level and in club hurling, the big breakthrough has not happened and perhaps having a few games in the Leinster championship against the likes of Dublin, Wexford, Offaly, and of course the kingpins Kilkenny will help them to fine tune the engine prior to hitting an All-Ireland semi-final.
However, as one Kilkenny wag on staff here in St Jarlath’s College, Tuam pointed out to a few of us last Monday morning: “Does that mean we have to beat Galway twice now in the one year before we collect the McCarthy cup?”.
The other big issues that came up for discussion were yellow cards for highly disruptive fouls - pulling down an opponent, wrestling on the ground and away from the play, deliberately body colliding, bringing an arm or hurley around the neck of an opponent, and remonstrating aggressively with officials - they now will be punishable by dismissing the opponent, but allowing a substitute replace him.
This will be trialled during next year’s pre-season competitions, including the NFL and NHL.
That is a major change for the better; however as has happened in the past there is a strong probability that when it comes to Congress next April that rule change will not get the required support to become a permanent fixture in the rule book. Do you remember the furore over the doomed sin bin?
This rule change could do a lot to improve the standard of Gaelic football in particular and cut out a lot of the crap that goes on in games currently. I was at the Galway county final last Sunday between Corofin and Cortoon Shamrocks and some of the sledging, body charges, late hits and drag-downs that were passed off as tackles were comical.
Some players on both sides made no real attempt to play the ball and were going around nailing their opponents like two rams in a field. If they knew that such behaviour would lead to a yellow card and the rest of the day on the bench they would make some effort to increase their skill level and play the ball. It should chiefly help skilful players and especially forwards as defenders will have to very careful of how they tackle.
How many of the Tyrone and Kerry team would have gotten yellow cards and walked in this year’s All-Ireland final? Eight or nine at a minimum by my estimation.
Of course the new rules will only work if referees are prepared to issue the card in the first place. That will be the acid test of that major change.
One other major modification regards under-age county teams and it came up as part of the proposals on player burnout. From now on Under-age county teams will be restricted to three training sessions a week and the commencement date for training will be restricted as follows:
U-21 football: Jan 1, u-21 hurling: May 1, minor football: March 1 minor hurling.
I can see them now, down from head-office, out doing checks on counties to see who started training before the appropriate date and preparing for a subsequent appeal at a later date depending on the result of a provincial/All-Ireland final.