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'We have to protect the head' - GAA referees will crack down on high tackles this summer

Officials will be less forgiving for any tackles around head area over the coming months.

INTER-COUNTY REFEREES have been instructed to crack down on head-high tackles in this summer’s All-Ireland football and hurling championships.

Referees will hand out red cards for challenges above the shoulders, which the GAA have identified as something they want eradicated from the game.

There were a number of incidents during the league that featured high challenges, with Clare forward Tony Kelly sent-off during their defeat to Tipperary back in January.

National Match Officials Manager Patrick Doherty confirmed it was the correct decision to dismiss Kelly because his left arm connected with Padraic Maher’s head.

Doherty said referees will be less forgiving for any tackles above the shoulders over the coming months.

“If I’m a smaller player and I duck into a tackle, the responsibility is on you to tackle me properly,” he stated. “I’m on the ball, I’m entitled to go on my knees if I don’t foul the ball. So the responsibility is on you to tackle properly.”

GAA’s Head of Games Administration Feargal McGill added: “The marker for dangerous play around the head is at a higher point than it is for other parts of the body.

“We have to protect the head in both football and hurling. Our medical committee have told us that repeatedly.”

From a technical point of view, the illegal handpass in hurling is the key area referees will be watching during the championship.

Philip Mahony gets attention Philip Mahony gets attention during the Munster SHC clash between Waterford and Clare. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

National Referees Development Chairman, Willie Barrett said the rise in thrown passes was down to hurling teams becoming more focused on retaining possession.

“I think teams are trying to get rid of the ball faster. I think the handpasses are faster now than they used to be. You also have more handpassing because you’ve more players in a congested position.

“There are far more handpasses now than there used to be and I think it comes from that.

“How many times you do see the corner-back pass it to the full-back and then to the other corner-back before the ball is actually struck? To keep possession I think is the name of the game.”

When asked if that strengthened the case for two referees to be introduced, Barrett replied: “It isn’t our brief to decide whether we should have two referees or not, but if we had to for a moment – just say a fella is on the 13m line.

“The referee isn’t going to be ahead of the play there. He’s still going to be behind it. If he’s on the 20m line bearing down on goal, the referee is still going to be behind him.

“We can see the one where the player is coming out with the ball, but certainly not bearing down on goal. It’s just impossible.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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