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The ‘Anthony Nash Rule’ – yes or no?

 One of the most high profile motions being put in front of the G.A.A congress this weekend is the motion to change the rules for free taking in hurling, affectionately known as the ‘Anthony Nash rule’.

Following the Cork goalkeeper’s technique that came under huge scrutiny during last year’s All-Ireland hurling finals, Nash’s unique way of taking frees has become a very big talking point in hurling.

As a result of this technique, rule changes are being proposed. Like everything, there are two sides to every story and some people think the rule should be alternated while others think there is no need for change. And just as every argument or debate goes, people can put perfectly legitimate arguments for and against this new proposal. Currently if a free is taken from the twenty-one yards, a player can throw the ball as close to the goal as possible. Nash’s technique appears to throw the ball a lot closer to the goal then others and as a result a change of ruling could be brought in.

The new rule proposes that a player can use the same technique but they cannot gain an advantage by throwing ball passed the twenty-one yard line. There have been many strong debates in hurling over the last few months that have been enjoyable. Since this motion has been proposed, many high profile hurling figures have had their say. This week, one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, Noel Skehan, spoke out in favour of the new motion. Laois’s Willie Hyland has voiced his opposition against this new ruling. There is no doubt that these debates will continue.

So let’s look at the general reasons in favour of this motion. Is there a safety concern? Yes there is. Is any player (not just Anthony Nash) gaining an advantage from their technique? Yes they are. Should a twenty-yard free be taken from twenty-one yards? There can be an argument in favour of this. Other than these three points, there is nothing to argue against the way in which these frees are taken.

There is huge power generated from these shots and maybe there is a possibility of a player getting injured if they were to receive a significant blow. But risks of injuries are very high in hurling in general. In reality, a player takes to a field with a weapon in his/her hand and players constantly put their bodies on the line all over the field. Risks of serious injuries occur in a lot more scenarios than a free or a penalty. The way in which this situation has been highlighted and isolated is unjust.

An advantage is gained by players, and the current rules allow this advantage to be gained. Since the game of hurling has begun, players have gained a number of yards when going for goal from a free. There has never been any incidents of significance before so what makes people think that things are going to change. An example is clearly been made of Anthony Nash’s technique. He slightly exaggerates his lift but overall he does not gain the huge advantage the people are making out. Two things point this out, his success rate in the two All-Ireland finals and watching other frees or penalties been taken.

Any player who goes for goal from a free or a penalty gains a significant advantage. Just because Nash throws the ball further in the air than most doesn’t mean that he throws it in that much closer to goal. This can be seen if people look back over highlights of previous games when goals have been scored from frees. Almost every player hits these sort of frees from anything between fourteen and seventeen yards. People seem to think that throwing the ball in closer to goal means a goal is guaranteed to be scored, when this definitely isn’t the case. A lot of penalties are saved.

In last year’s All-Ireland finals, Nash had five attempts on goal from frees, and only two were scored. That is a 40% success rate. People make out the Nash’s frees are un-saveable but these facts show that they are most definitely not. Clare’s bizarre tactic of putting thirteen players on the line certainly didn’t work; in fact it weakened their chances of saving the shot. One penalty was saved by an outfield player, Colin Ryan. And his final shot in the replay showed the difficulty of his technique; when he failed to even lift the ball.

The skill involved in Nash’s technique is being totally underestimated. If it wasn’t difficult, every player would use it. It’s very easy for things to go wrong with the lift when using this technique and it’s very hard to catch the ball sweetly. It’s a great sight when Nash hits these frees well and it should be encouraged, not eliminated. The buzz around the stadium is also huge. There is great tension and anticipation when a free is awarded, and the call is given for Nash to come up the field. It certainly adds to the occasion is games and it’s something that shouldn’t go away.

If the rule change comes in, there is a huge danger of cynical fouling coming into the game of hurling. Defenders will know that the chances of conceding a goal from a free will be significantly lessened by this new ruling. If a player has any chance of a goal, any good or sensible defender will pull the attacker down and trust his goalkeeper and fellow defenders. Scoring a goal from a twenty-one yard free or a penalty is a very hard thing to do. There is definitely no chance of a goal being guaranteed and there is no way that players tasks should be made more difficult. There would be a definite negative effect in terms of cynicism.

If the motion is passed, then a follow on rule change must come in. If a free taker’s distance is being lengthened, then the surplus players inside in the goal must be taken out. Any goalkeeper would say that a one-on-one shot from twenty-one yards should be stopped. There is no way that these frees should be made more difficult for an attacker, and easier for a goalkeeper and their defenders.

There must be a balance unless the aim is to encourage cynical defending and discourage goals being scored. If a player must strike a ball from outside the twenty-one yard line, then it must be a one-on-one shot or the game will suffer. Personally, I really do fear that this motion will be passed and I think it will have a very negative effect. I think people are making a very stubborn example of Anthony Nash and failing to look at the way other players take these frees.

There is very little difference in the way all players go for goal. One great example recently was Shane Dowling’s goal for Na Piarsaigh versus Portumna in the All-Ireland Club semi-final. Dowling struck his free from fourteen yards, and there wasn’t a word said about it. He gained the exact same advantage as a player like Anthony Nash does, yet people will only say negative words about Nash. There is no need the change ruling and people are being very narrow-minded on the issue.

Pundit Arena, Sean Cremin.

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