Conor Delaney of Kilkenny is surrounded by Dessie Hutchinson, left, and Austin Gleeson of Waterford during the 2021 GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Kilkenny and Waterford at Croke Park in Dublin.
Conor Delaney of Kilkenny is surrounded by Dessie Hutchinson, left, and Austin Gleeson of Waterford during the 2021 GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Kilkenny and Waterford at Croke Park in Dublin. 

Martin Fogarty: Systematic fouling is ruining hurling


By Martin Fogarty, GAA National Hurling Development Manager

National Hurling Development Manager calls for Sweeping Rule Changes in Hurling!

Holding opponents hurls to be legalized! Pulling opponents arms will not be a free!

  1. Allow players to hold their opponents' hurls!
  2. Allow players to pull and hold their opponents' arms!
  3. Allow players to tug at, pull at, and hold their opponents' shoulders and hips!
  4. Allow players to slap their opponents' arms and hands as they are attempting to rise a ball!
  5. Allow players to pin their opponents' arms to their sides when attempting to release the ball!
  6. For good measure, allow players to shoulder their opponents into the chest, especially after releasing a ball and allow them to shoulder an opponent into the back or even into the side of their head when thy bend down to rise a ball!
  7. Allow slapping down on an opponent's hurl when he is attempting to rise a ball or when he is on a solo run!

Like everyone else, I hate to see games becoming shootouts between the opposing free-takers. I also do not like too many stoppages in a game, I like to see games flow. I have always said that if a player is not interfering with an opponent, do not blow the whistle. If there is a hand on a back that is not a push or a little tug of a jersey that a player does not even feel, then let play proceed. A clash of hurls should not immediately result in a whistle unless it is a chop down or wild swipe.

In recent weeks, referees are taking a hammering for stopping the games too much and awarding too many frees. The solution to this problem is quite simple. Implement my recommendations above, then all the referees will have to do is to record the time and the scores and everyone will be happy - or will they?

Where would that leave the game of hurling?

In a very, very bad place, I am sure you agree.

How would it leave top level games? I shudder to think. How would it leave underage games? Do we need different rules for intercounty, different rules for adult club and maybe different rules for underage?

Whether we like it or not there is an opinion out there at the moment that all (plus more) of the above infringements are ok. Well, are they ok? Is that what we want? Is this how we want our game played?

There is however a far better and simple solution to the problem of too many frees and games becoming sharpshooter shootouts. Stop fouling!

Rory O'Connor of Wexford is fouled by Lee Cleere of Laois resulting in a penalty for Wexford and a yellow card and sin binning for Cleere during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group B Round 1 match between Wexford and Laois at Chadwicks Wexford Park in Wexford. 
Rory O'Connor of Wexford is fouled by Lee Cleere of Laois resulting in a penalty for Wexford and a yellow card and sin binning for Cleere during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group B Round 1 match between Wexford and Laois at Chadwicks Wexford Park in Wexford. 

Players stop fouling, coaches and managers coach the players how "not to foul" instead of "how to foul" which is a practice that has crept into hurling in recent years and is abominable.

I for one am happy to see the referees, at last, blowing the above fouls. They are all not just fouls, they are blatant fouls and are ruining the game. The sad and worrying thing is that these practices are being coached into players. People speak about the ‘old days’ and the great manly battles that took place. They speak about physicality being watered down now. That is all nonsense. The rules were more or less the same twenty years ago. Holding was holding, chopping was chopping and shouldering a lad into the chest or head were all frees then as they are now. The big difference a few years ago was that fouling was not coached into players. They fouled or didn’t foul of their own accord.

It amuses or irritates me, I am not sure which, to hear people complain about the frees and the stoppages but when their own teams and players are getting fouled, they are dancing and jumping, raising hands to heaven, and shouting all sorts to the referee. It is like, it is ok for my team to pull and drag, hold and slap, but when these things are done to my players then it is not ok.

Aron Shanagher of Clare is pulled back by Paddy Smyth of Dublin during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group B Round 4 match between Dublin and Clare at Parnell Park in Dublin. 
Aron Shanagher of Clare is pulled back by Paddy Smyth of Dublin during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group B Round 4 match between Dublin and Clare at Parnell Park in Dublin. 

People need to stand up and be counted. Either it is ok to hold an opponent's hurl, or it is not. If it is ok, then change the rule and see what happens! If it is not ok, then stop coaching players to do so, otherwise take the consequences if your players are caught fouling, which is a free and usually a point at top level and stop whingeing about the referee.

Is it ok to drag or hold an opponent's arm, shoulder or hip? If the majority think it is, then fine let's change the rules and watch our beautiful game disappear and become more like rugby where it is ok to do these things. Is that what the ‘purists’ want? Do we want a game where in order to be good at it you must be able to break away from one, two and often three players holding you and dragging out of you? Are we looking at prop-forward type hurlers being the future?

It sounds macho to speak about "taking the physicality" out of the game or playing "on the edge" but what do people who say these things really mean? When interviewed on side lines or in studio they should be challenged on this issue and asked to be specific. What do you mean exactly by “physicality”? Do you mean allowing some or all of the above? Should we allow hurls to be held or players to be held?

Jack O'Connor of Cork is pulled back by Barry Nash of Limerick during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A Round 4 match between Limerick and Cork at LIT Gaelic Grounds in Limerick.
Jack O'Connor of Cork is pulled back by Barry Nash of Limerick during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A Round 4 match between Limerick and Cork at LIT Gaelic Grounds in Limerick.

Yes or no because it is black or white. Certainly, for referees it is black or white. Interviewers should be very specific when asking the question about “physicality”. Ask the qeustion, “What do you want allowed in the game that is not allowed at the moment?”

Show some examples and ask specifically – should this action be allowed, Yes/No? I think if people were asked to be specific, with examples, we would very quickly get to the root of the problem and call out those who are hiding behind generalities. For the supporter at a game it is very difficult to spot many of these infringements while on television or close up they are as clear as day.

Hurling is a very physical and demanding game when played within the rules. Tussling an opponent for possession, trying to get a shot away while being hooked and blocked and chased demands savage levels of fitness.

Pulling and dragging, holding and slapping is not physicality. It is fouling! It is lazy and it is killing our game. It is a poor player’s solution to not being able to cope with a better opponent. Throwing a shoulder into an opponent's chest, especially when he is not expecting it, or slapping down on his hurl as he attempts to rise or strike a ball is not tough or playing on the edge. It is sneaky, nasty, dirty, and often cowardly.

Cillian Buckley of Kilkenny is pulled back by Jack Prendergast of Waterford during the 2020 GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Kilkenny and Waterford at Croke Park in Dublin. 
Cillian Buckley of Kilkenny is pulled back by Jack Prendergast of Waterford during the 2020 GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Kilkenny and Waterford at Croke Park in Dublin. 

I would love to see a Sunday Game programme take a different focus some night. Instead of rolling out the usual popular lines of "taking the physicality out of the game”, “playing on the edge", "letting the game flow", "a game for warriors", etc, I would like to see a large panel actually highlight 20 or so of these stoppages or frees that are being blown, forensically examine them all and then go round the table to each pundit asking of each incident - "Well lads/ladies, was it a free or was it not a free", Yes or No.

If yes, should the referee have blown it? Yes or No? Should it be allowed in our game? Do the rules need to change? No sitting on the hedge saying, well, technically he was holding his opponents hurl, but in the interest of a free-flowing game ignore it! Where will that attitude lead us?

What happens then is what has been happening for the last number of years - more players commit those fouls and so on and our game suffers. Young players see it as the norm, and they imitate the practice. How annoying it is for a player to constantly have their hurl held or get pulled and dragged every time they move with a ball. Is it any wonder some react in a manner that they should not, out of sheer frustration?

Cian Boland of Dublin is tackled by Gerard Walsh of Antrim during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Round 3 match between Dublin and Antrim in Parnell Park in Dublin. 
Cian Boland of Dublin is tackled by Gerard Walsh of Antrim during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Round 3 match between Dublin and Antrim in Parnell Park in Dublin. 

I’m not so sure that even some intercounty players actually know the rules of the game anymore. I watched an instance a couple of times over the weekend where a player clearly dragged his opponent back by the shoulder. When blown he was absolutely amazed and his reaction to the referee was “how could that be a free”? Now, he is either a very good actor or he does not know that pulling back an opponent is a foul.

Either we allow certain things, or we don't. Maybe if the people analysing our games point out that players are actually fouling - blatantly and continually fouling - instead of trying to generate an atmosphere of panic and subterfuge about ruining our beautiful, manly game. If they do this then maybe they can influence an improvement in our games. They might influence for the better how players are being coached. Supporters might actually get educated more and realise that it is not the referee that is the problem, or indeed the player. The foul is the problem! The referee does not commit the fouls!

Shane Barrett of Cork is pulled back by Aonghus Clarke of Westmeath during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A Round 3 match between Cork and Westmeath at Páirc Ui Chaoimh in Cork. 
Shane Barrett of Cork is pulled back by Aonghus Clarke of Westmeath during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A Round 3 match between Cork and Westmeath at Páirc Ui Chaoimh in Cork. 

It is amazing, actually it is sad, the things I have been asked about over the past number of years. Basically, I have been asked how to “coach fouling”, how to pull a player’s arm when he is rising a ball, how to pin his arm to his body so that he cannot release the ball. I got an email recently from a coach who told me how he has been coaching his players to foul for years, using the spare hand, blocking runs etc. and how now all these things are being blown, what is he to do. My answer as always, was to teach his players how to hook and block and to learn the rules.

It is high time that coaches from the top-down start to do this - coach their players how to play, not how to stop others (illegally) from playing. Set the example because all this pulling and dragging and holding is like a cancer festering down to underage players.

One of my pet hates is watching a young player go down over a ball to rise it and his opponent coming in and tug, tug, tugging at his arm to prevent him gaining possession or when he has possession, slap, slap slapping his arm in an attempt to knock the ball from his hand.

Kyle Hayes of Limerick is pulled back by Austin Gleeson of Waterford during the 2020 GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Limerick and Waterford at Croke Park in Dublin. 
Kyle Hayes of Limerick is pulled back by Austin Gleeson of Waterford during the 2020 GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Limerick and Waterford at Croke Park in Dublin. 

In equal measures I despise the tactic of grabbing an opponent’s hurl who is reaching for a ball, dragging it around the body, falling and feigning a high challenge in an attempt to get an opponent yellow or even red carded. The worst one is the player going to ground, maybe not even touched, holding his head, removing the helmet to feign a head challenge and get an opponent red carded. That practice is scurrilous and has no place in our game.

At adult level, "clamping" the arms of a player in possession and preventing him from playing or releasing the ball is another cancer on the game. It was always my understanding that when a player is in possession he cannot be prevented or impeded from releasing or playing the ball away other than by a block or a hook. The player must be allowed play or release the ball! The skill is in blocking or hooking, not in clamping, holding or slapping his arms.

David Reidy of Clare is pulled back by Conor McDonald of Wexford during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Qualifier Round 2 match between Wexford and Clare at MW Hire O'Moore Park in Portlaoise, Laois. 
David Reidy of Clare is pulled back by Conor McDonald of Wexford during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Qualifier Round 2 match between Wexford and Clare at MW Hire O'Moore Park in Portlaoise, Laois. 

This sort of practice leads to these awful ‘rucks’ that have crept in and are terrible. Sometimes the resultant throw-in just makes matters worse as referees are not throwing the ball in between two players only, with all other players at least 15M away. They are throwing it in among a baying pack of maybe ten players - I think it is called a scrum in another sport.

I have sympathy for referees here as they badly need the assistance of linesmen to keep the other players back and should penalise players that refuse to move back. If it can be got right for the commencement of a half then it can be got right for a throw in during play, otherwise it is just mayhem.

I watched a couple of games recently and decided to note the number of times a player dragged his opponent by the shoulder. Before the first game was over, I had reached 20 instances. It was almost automatic - as soon as a player got passed by an opponent the first reaction was to drag his shoulder. Do I blame the players - no - they are getting away with it and their opponents similarly.

If current refereeing practices continue, I think we are going to witness many fewer frees in the games as players and coaches are going to cop on very quickly and stop fouling. Hopefully this will be the case and that we will NOT see motions to congress in the near future seeking to implement those nonsense rules that I have recommended at the beginning of this article.

The way to eradicate fouling is to penalise the frees. With the huge backroom teams now involved in the games I’m sure some analyst could be deployed to track how many scores are being given away by needless fouling and steps taken to counteract it.