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'It can come across that players are whinging and complaining... but the rules have to change with the game'

Kilkenny star and 2018 Player of the Year Anne Dalton delivered yet another passionate call for change to The42.

NOT MUCH HAS to be said to get Anne Dalton going.

The Kilkenny star has done it before, and she’ll undoubtedly do it again. Speaking publicly about the need for rule changes in camogie just has to be done.

Anne Dalton Kilkenny star Anne Dalton. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

At this stage it really is another day, another cry for change. Her Cats team-mates Anna Farrell and Grace Walsh recently added their names to the long lost of those delivering passionate arguments for change across the board, when in conversation with The42.

Dublin duo Eve O’Brien and Laura Twomey, Cork’s Amy O’Connor and Galway captain Sarah Dervan are among those who have all also made their voices heard over the past few months.

The outdated, archaic rules are the main thing players take issue with. Their physicality has outgrown the rule book, the game has evolved through the years.

Referees have been clamping down more and more on physical exchanges, slowing the game down drastically in the process as it turns into a free-taking contest, and this obviously really frustrates players at all levels across the country.

Small in stature, 2018 Player of the Year Dalton is one of the stars of the show for Ann Downey’s 2016 All-Ireland winners. An absolute workhorse no matter what position she’s put in on the field, her hounding and harrying has been of huge importance to her side through the years. 

She appears shy and timid at first, but once you get her talking, she won’t hold back. It doesn’t take much.

Rewind to the 2018 All-Ireland final last September in which Cork edged past Dalton’s Kilkenny. It really was the tipping point, if you like, a game marred by its stop-start nature and the amount of frees awarded. A late, late one decided the outcome actually.

The game itself and everything that came out of it afterwards was about the referee and the rules. Not much about the win, nothing about the loss. How frustrating is that as a player?

Very is the answer in short. But Dalton likes to delve deep.

“Looking at it from Cork’s point of view,” she tells The42, “they were after putting back-to-back All-Irelands together, and all everyone is talking about is the referee gave it to them or the ref gave them the winning point. That must have been frustrating for them. 

“And then for us, you don’t want to lose any game by a last-minute point from a free, especially if the free is questionable, or you think it’s questionable. 

Anne Dalton Dalton facing Cork in last year's All-Ireland final. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“People feel… I know the WGPA are after running a survey and players are finding that they want their game to be a fast, flowing game but it’s not translating onto the pitch. That can be frustrating as a player when we’re spending 12 months training essentially.

We’re gym-ing and running, it’s a year-round thing. You go and tackle someone and you don’t think it’s a bad tackle, you just think there’s a bit of strength there and you’re blown for too much contact. It’s little things like that.

“As a whole, camogie has changed. The game has changed. The rules have to change with it. It can come across that players are whinging about it and complaining about it, but we’re being asked about it. And we’re the only ones that are actually speaking out about it.

“I’m presuming the refs can’t talk about it the way soccer refs can’t talk to the media about any decisions they make. But I’ve chatted with some refs, and they’re open to change.

“I think the refs get a lot of the blame when really they have no say in it. They get the brunt of it when they’re not the ones that come up with the rules. They just apply them. It really falls on the rule-makers.”

The referees’ hands are tied by the rule book, after all.

She’d talk and talk on the subject, but just to interject: the WGPA (Women’s Gaelic Players Association) survey – published last month — she mentioned shows that 82% of players are in favour of trialling new rules. 70% stated the rules on physical contact very much need a change. 

The Camogie Association have indicated that they’re open to it, it seems. At Congress, Rule 20.4. re: introduction of ability to trial playing rules passed with a majority of 67%, while they hosted a feedback forum on 27 April for players and managers.

“It came out that they’ll try new rules, have a players’ committee,” 30-year-old Dalton explains of the outcome of the forum, “but there’s no time frame for that.

“We don’t know how they’re going to pick players to be part of this committee, we don’t know when it’s going to happen. It’s not going to happen this year, I think we’re all aware of that.

“Is it going to happen for the next league, which is what players want? Players are saying, ‘We want to change the rules up, we want it done now as opposed to five years down the line’.”

The sooner the better. 

But she insists that players aren’t calling for drastic changes. It’s literally any little improvements that can be made.

“Sometimes people can hear players say, ‘There needs to be more contact’ and ‘We need to change up these rules’ and they automatically think, ‘Oh, ye want to bring shouldering into it’.

Ann Dalton Playing championship hurling in 2017. Source: Tom Beary/INPHO

“That’s not what we’re saying. We know we don’t have the answers. We just want open discussions and then to see where we can go. We all want to get a solution together to make the game better. That’s what we’re here for.

“We want to play a great sport. We have a great sport, but we want to make it great. We have to make it great. Sometimes it feels like your hands are tied because of the current rules… or interpretation of the current rules.”

She tells a story of a friend being home from Australia over Christmas and how they were watching back some old club games from about 15 years ago. It was all ground hurling.

“The rules now suit ground hurling because the ball is fast moving. There’s not much need for that much contact if I’m just swinging on the ball.

“Whereas camogie has changed to a possession game. The ball is held up an awful lot so there’s more opportunity for contact and contact tackles. The game has changed but the rules are still the same, so they need to change in line with the game.”

There was the “unbelievable” summer of hurling last year while camogie feels like more of a free-taking contest at the minute. 

Many camogie players have spoken candidly about their envy towards the rise of ladies football, and how their code has been left behind. Dalton resonates with that feeling.

“Sometimes it feels like we’re afraid to make decisions, we’re afraid to change. Instead of making a decision and changing, we’re just standing still. As a result of that, it feels like we’re going backwards.

“Other organisations like the Ladies Gaelic Football [Association], Rowing Ireland; they’re all moving forward because they’re making decisions. Sometimes it can get very frustrating. 

“I’m presuming that’s what they’re looking to do with this forum they held in April. They’re looking to say, ‘Right, okay, let’s start changing things up here. Let’s see what we can improve on. Let’s get together and let’s fix what we think needs fixing’.

“But then it comes: there’s no time-frame here. Is this in five years time? I’m 31 in two or three weeks time, will I see these? Is this applicable for my playing days?”

She adds: “Are they going to say, ‘We’re going to trial this no-goal handpass’.

“To me, I don’t care about that. As a whole, how many times do you actually see it in a camogie game? I care more about contact in the tackle. That’s going to affect me and every camogie player more.

Anne Dalton racing Sarah Rowe At the Rowing Ireland and Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“Is there even two or three scores in the championship, versus how many times do you walk away from a tackle, being like, ‘That was a good tackle, why am I getting blown there?’”

The fear of change and the tradition within the association is something that O’Brien tackled hard when she hit out originally last October.

“The Camogie Association is just a very conservative organisation that does not like change,” she said. “We wear skorts just because we’re women — it’s feminine and we should be ladies and wear skorts.

“It’s a small thing but it’s very symbolic of the organisation that is quite traditional.”

And Dalton’s view on that to round off our conversation?

It’s very similar.

“I think it’s a very traditional view that girls need to be in skirts… although every single one of us trains in shorts,” she concludes. “If you see someone coming in in a skort, you’re just thinking, ‘She forgot her gear, that’s all she had in her car’.

“They way I see it is I’d prefer shorts but if I had to change rule, it’s not that. It’s not going to make a difference. I’m not going to go into a tackle, give away a free, come out and go, ‘Wouldn’t have done that in shorts,’ she laughs… If only we were in shorts.

“I just don’t think it should even be an issue. If camogie players that are playing the game at county and club level, if they want to wear shorts, I don’t see the issue with letting them wear shorts. Even just be like, ‘You can wear what ye want’. Skorts or shorts, what difference does it make?

“It’s like turning to someone and saying, ‘You have to play with a hurl without a band on it’. Some people do, some people don’t. What difference does it make? Let them do what they want.”

Kilkenny star Anne Dalton was on hand to announce Kinetica Sports Nutrition’s headline sponsorship of Rowing Ireland yesterday.

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Emma Duffy

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