Advantage rule needs to be given time
By John Harrington
The Chairperson of the Standing Committee on the Playing Rules, David Hassan, is confident that any concern about the implementation of the recently updated advantage rule in Gaelic football and hurling will dissipate in the coming weeks.
We have seen in the past that the introduction of new rules often requires a bedding-in period as players become accustomed to how they are implemented, and Hassan is positive that the amended advantage rule will follow that same trend.
“My interpretation of the views of those people who remain somewhat averse to this change is that they’re concerned we're going to end up with a game that's punctuated by an abnormally high number of frees,” says Hassan.
“The reality is that as things settle down and people become more familiar with the actual wording of the rule and also recognise that 99 per cent of the rule is basically the same as it was prior to the most recent Congress, then I think a lot of those concerns will dissipate.”
So, how exactly has the advantage rule been changed, and why was it changed?
“What has changed is the amended version of the advantage rule now has a definition of what is meant by the word 'advantage',” explains Hassan.
“Previously that definition didn't exist. So ‘advantage’ was really in the eye of the beholder, so to speak. And the results of that was that an advantage was being interpreted differently depending on whether you were a player, a manager, or a spectator.
“As a consequence of this, an understandable level of confusion took hold, and a fair element of inconsistency was evident regarding the application of the advantage rule.
“What then began to happen and became almost accepted in relation to the application of the advantage rule was that it became a by-word for providing continuity of play, in other words that play just carried on even though a player had been fouled and, even then, very often he continued to be fouled despite having been awarded an ‘advantage’.
“What the amended version of the advantage rule does is offer a somewhat more defined set of circumstances when advantage may be played.
“So, as of now, you have essentially two situations where advantage may be awarded. One is relatively narrowly defined, which is a goal-scoring opportunity.
“And then the other has a much broader definition, which allows for a situation where even though a player has been fouled, advantage may be played if, in the opinion of the referee, the offended player has an opportunity to create or avail of time and space on the ball, anywhere on the field of play.
"So, for example, this might be a case where he can break free of a tackle situation, move into space, and strike the ball in an uninhibited manner, or, similarly, he can have a shot at goal in a way that is not adversely impacted upon despite having just been fouled.
“Thereafter, bear in mind, that nothing else in relation to the rule has changed – it is identical to what it was prior to this minor amendment. So, for example, advantage may still be played for up to five seconds and if no advantage accrues then the referee may still award a free.
“It could present a situation, for example, where a referee allows an advantage to develop for up to five seconds because he believes a player is capable of creating or availing of time and space, yet even if it doesn't emerge, at that point the referee can award a free.”
Hassan is at pains to emphasise that he and the playing rules committee are not against matches of Gaelic Football and hurling retaining a good tempo, but he believes that should remain secondary to ensuring that a player who is fouled has proper redress or reparation.
One of the greatest frustrations for players and supporters alike is for advantage to be played after a foul like has been committed but then no advantage accrues and the player, and his team, is denied any form of compensation.
This is particularly the case in hurling where most teams now have a free taker who will more often than not convert a free from within 80 yards of the posts. So, unless a goal chance is obviously on, often the advantage lies in the awarding of a free.
“At Annual Congress in 2020 when amendment of the advantage rule was first discussed (it fell by the narrowest of margins on a 59/41 percentage split), Michael Duignan (the current Offaly Chairman and former distinguished hurler) stood up and made that exact point,” says Hassan.
“He said there was nothing more frustrating for a player than if he was fouled and advantage was played ensuring that the game continued on as normal, only to find that he was subject to further tackling and ended up striking the ball wide because of that."
As players become more accustomed to how the advantage rule is now being implemented, we should see less and less of the sort of lazy tackles and ‘half-tackles’ that were penalised by referees in the first round of the Allianz Hurling League and duly punished on the scoreboard by accurate free taking.
Rather than lead to an increase in frees, the hope would be that in time the advantage rule may lead to less frees because players will realise it’s a bigger risk to foul an opponent and concede a very scorable free rather than trust a team-mate who is in a better position to affect a legal tackle.
“We need to give the rule time to settle down,” says Hassan. “I think too that referees will realise that rather than immediately blowing a foul that they may allow advantage to run if they feel a player can create time and space on the ball and permit up to five seconds to elapse before deciding whether an advantage has ultimately accrued from this.
“If an advantage does accrue, in some of the ways I described earlier, for example, then they can play on just like they could before, and, if it doesn't, they can bring it back for the free.”