Anthony Nash is one of a long line of Cork hurling goalkeepers that have stood above the rest. Like his predecessor, Donal Og Cusack, he brought something new to the team. His ability to score from penalties was such a huge asset to the Cork team in the last 12 months that Jimmy Barry Murphy had no problem in putting him in the team ahead of Cusack, probably one of the best to ever stand between the posts for the Rebel county.
Nash figured out a way within the rules to gain about six metres before unleashing his shot and he rarely missed the target. Of course it was a huge advantage, especially in hurling, and it caused upset with the more conservative hurling community.
When Cork played Waterford in the first round of the Munster hurling championship Nash advanced up the field to take his usual penalty but this time the Waterford goalkeeper Stephen O’Keefe charged from his line when Nash had the ball in the air just before the strike and blocked the sliotar just after Nash’s strike.
O’Keefe could be considered mad or brave in his actions but it called into question who is supposed to have the advantage; the team taking the penalty or the team after conceding it.
The referee on the day seemed confused by the actions of the Waterford goalkeeper and let what happened continue. The Cork players were furious, as you would expect, and it called into question the rules surrounding not only the taking of penalties but every dead ball.
The argument was simple - the referee argued that once Nash had lifted the ball then the ball was in play so the Waterford player had a right to charge him down; but if that was the case, if the ball was considered to be in play once the ball was lifted, so could they not have charged down all the frees in the same manner.
There was a lot of confusion around the rules and the implementation of the rule. Now typical of the way we do things in this little country, whether it’s the GAA or politics, our rules or las seem to have a get-out-of-jail-free-card or if you’re a referee, it’s the way in which you perceive the rule should work which would be different for every match official. No black or white in this country boss, grey everywhere.
So the management committee within the GAA decided to clarify the rule. They decided that in future the ball would have to be struck before the 20m line and could not be carried on the hurl like D.J Carey used to do or flicked up in the air by Anthony Nash and gain those extra few metres .
That was it but according to many hurling experts, of which I am definitely not one, it gave the advantage to the team who had conceded the penalty. They went on to suggest that the majority of penalties would be saved given you have three players on the line and were not happy that if the rule had to be changed surely it should have been left to Congress and not to a committee within the organisation of which many of the members might have had very little experience of hurling or the way it is played.
It is a good point, not that it should be left to Congress, but because the power of the Association has long been taken away from the grassroots volunteer and rests with those that sit on high powered committees. To be fair if we had to wait on all these decisions to be taken at Congress then we would get nothing done and we would be still in the dark ages but for me the good point was in the experience of the people taking the decision. These people are good GAA people, don’t get me wrong, but do they have a clue how the game of football or hurling should be played.
Depending on their age it could be suggested that they might not be too happy with the tactics that might be used in the modern game. Depending on what part of the country they are from they might believe that hurling is more important to the Association than that of football.
Important decisions on the business side of the Association is one thing but having the power to change or, in their words, clarify the rule in mid- eason is another thing.
Why didn’t they do something about this after last year’s All-Ireland final as there were issues around it at that time, instead of doing it in the middle of the championship.
It would also beg the question, are the rules that govern our games fit for the way the modern game is played? Could they be clarified in a fashion that would be easier for match officials, players, managers and especially supporters to come to terms with?
If you attend a football match, whether it is underage or adult, every foul that is committed supporters are wondering were is the black cards.
In fact I would suggest that the burden that is on referees is slowly but surely driving those interested in officiating away from the games.
In the last few weeks television pundits that have played the game in the past have been picking out moments where players are conning the referee into giving them a free. While it is their job as analysts, why are we now calling the players who give such a huge commitment for the love of their county, cheats.
Instead of singing their praises from the mountain tops we have to knock them. Imagine what would happen if they took a bite out of someone.