Last weekend was a big day for the GAA. Special Congress made some real and important decisions and, in my opinion, most were of a 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 pleased 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 to 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 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. 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.
The other big issue was 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 to 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, but, 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.This rule change could do a lot to improve the standard of Gaelic football in particular. 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 is at under-age. From now on underage 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; and Minor hurling March 1.