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Penalties: Hurling’s Troubled Child

There has been much debate since the dawn of the 2015 hurling year surrounding the new penalty laws. The GAA adopting a reactive approach rather than a proactive one has not helped the issue, but the prospect of a fair resolution is getting closer.


Last year’s rushed amendment to keep three defenders, yet prohibit the taker from crossing the 21 yard line, was deemed too advantageous for the defending side, and promoted cynical fouling, as seen in the drawn All-Ireland final.

The experimental law, taking place at the moment still prohibits the striker of the ball to cross the 21, but there is only one defending the goal.

Despite concerns that this was too beneficial for the attacking team, a high proportion of penalties saved in its probation period has raised a few eyebrows. Nonetheless, there is a feeling that on a warm summer’s day, the ball will be travelling that bit faster, and the chances of it being saved will diminish.

Despite all the talk about whether the attacker or defender has the upper hand, nobody has offered a suggestion as to where a correct conversion ratio lies. It has stirred much discussion, yet remains as ambiguous as ever.

It is redundant should the goalkeeper have little chance, rendering a penalty little more than a formality of finding the net. Nor should it act in anyway to offer a defender any incentive to drag a forward down.

So what is the optimum percent of converted penalties? Last summer’s ill-fated edition of the law yielded just a 20% success rate. Regardless of popular opinion, they should not be 50-50, as that offers a genuine motivation for professional fouls. This writer would argue that perhaps a perfect result would be approximately two-thirds of penalties being scored.

In soccer, penalties yield approximately a 78% success rate across the board. While hurling traditionalist alarm bells are ringing at such a comparison, innate differences in the sports dictate that such an advantage should not be afforded to hurling, and a slightly lower conversion rate would be ideal.

It must be noted that not all penalties result from professional fouls, and some are merely accidental breaches of the law, and this must be taken into account in this discussion.

So once this is settled, it now must be questioned how such a ratio could be achieved?

Several suggestions have been bounded about, and every hurling enthusiast has an opinion on how penalties should be dictated.

The idea of a ground strike from the 14-yard line has been mooted. While it is easy to see its attraction, in that it brings ground hurling back to the fore of elite hurling, the fact is that this idea only spares a thought for inter-county hurling on top class fields in the summer.

It is all well and good on a dry day in Croker, but this rule will ultimately be implemented at club level, on wet pitches throughout the winter as well. Simply, it would not function in such conditions, and therefore should be discounted.

Another idea follows the logic that if three defenders are too many, and one is too few, would two be just right? This proposal has its merits, but would need a trial period in order for its true value to be understood.

The final design is set on the notion of recreating the penalty of the ‘Pre-Nash Era’. In practice, the attacker would generally strike the sliotar from just inside the 21.

So how could this be restored? TJ Reid advocated for a strike where the attacker could not advance past the 18 yard line. An alternative would be where there would be a return to the classic penalty, but the taker is not allowed a run-up, but rather begin from a standing start over the ball. Both would act as means to the same end.

The solution is there, but each one must be tried and tested. Do not be so quick to shoot down the one-on-one proposal, as it will be reviewed once the pre-season tournaments come to a close. Whatever happens, the debate is set to rage on for a long time yet.

Brian Barry, Pundit Arena

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