How was that a rule?

11 January 2009; Referee Ciaran Groome signals for a blood substitution during the game between Longford and Roscommon. Kehoe Cup, Longford v Roscommon, Pearse Park, Longford.

As of January 1 2017, the mark is law in Gaelic football. In the Official Guide, it is defined as follows: “When a player catches the ball cleanly from a kick-out without it touching the ground, on or past the 45m line nearest the kick-out point, he shall be awarded a ‘mark’ by the referee. The player awarded a ‘mark’ shall have the options of (a) Taking a free kick or (b) Playing on immediately.”

At one time, this development would’ve seemed highly unlikely but then the passing of time can do that. As you’ll read below, there have been some directives that seem alien by modern standards.

Not detailed below but also deserving of a mention are: the elimination of forfeit points for knocking the ball over your own end line (they would come into play if the teams finished level; now it’s a 45 or 65), the gradual reduction of teams from 21 players to 17 to 15, the dropping of the crossbar from 10 foot to 8’5”, and the removal of separate points posts.

Lining up for the throw-in

There was a time when every player from both teams lined up for the throw-in, and that on occasion led to a goal being scored before the netminder could get back into position. But as times changed, so too did the rules and in 1910 the GAA decided only the six forwards and two midfielders from each team could contest the ball at the start of each half. Take a look at the opening of the 1961 All Ireland football final between Down and Offaly.

But from 1965 onwards, only the midfielders were allowed clash for the ball, and the game is probably all the better without the resulting melees they had in the olden days. Not that the current set-up is always a bed of roses.

Square ball

The small parallelogram was first introduced in 1910 to stop players hovering so close to goal. Eliminating what some people called whipes, and what more – among the youth in parks around the country – called spongers. There would be no more foxes in the boxes, not anymore. Another side effect of this rule was that goalkeepers could not be tackled when inside the square, meaning an end to the days when they were heaved by a group of forwards into the net like a rugby maul. Yes, that did happen, and the lucky keepers were those who managed to toss the ball out wide. The rule these days states: “When he [an opposing player] is within the small rectangle, the goalkeeper may not be charged but he may be challenged for possession of the ball, and his puck, kick or pass may be blocked. Incidental contact with the goalkeeper while playing the ball is permitted.”

Line ball

When you consider the love and care that hurlers nowadays put into placing a sideline ball before attempting to slot it over the bar, you wonder how they would cope if someone else was lazily dropping it on the ground for them. Imagine, just letting it fall where it may — hardly the stuff of a Joe Canning sideline special. But that was customary before 1965 and then, up until 1985, the linesman would instead place the ball for a sideline puck or kick. Thankfully players can now tee themselves up, hence Austin Gleeson and Co wooing us. Meanwhile, it was only in 1955 that players were allowed to place the ball for a free themselves instead of the referee doing it. And up until 1946, balls were thrown back in when they crossed the sideline.

Canice Brennan 40097c17a


This is one that has always caused a lot of debate. Passing with the open hand was legal before 1950 and from 1975-’81, but it was banned altogether from 1950-’75. Gaelic football has often debated the rule and hurling has had problems of its own, with a great many people coming to dislike players using their hands to register points (which is probably why many hurling fans do not like to see Gaelic footballers take the handy option and fist the ball over the bar). In 1981, a rule was passed whereby a score could not be taken with the hand, with the exception that if a player was passed the ball, he could use his hand to strike it to the net. The current football rule states it is a foul to handpass the ball without: (i) It being Fisted or (ii) It being struck with an open hand with a definite underhand striking action.

Third-man tackle

Believe it or not, there was a time when you could take out the man who was not in possession of the ball. Or not even competing for it. It paints a picture of American football-type jostling as a player surges through and one imagines the hits taken by an unsuspecting player would have been quite brutal. And sometimes harmful. The lack of censure encouraged off-the-ball carry-on, and coupled with the frontal charge that had not yet been banned, there was a recipe for serious damage. You imagine the late nights at Croke Park if they had the DRA and the rest of the alphabet gang back in those days.

Mick Lyons 1987 9897_11a

Other rules in play today

The bas of the hurley at its widest point not be more than 13cm.

A referee shall not allow a helmet to be worn in a football game.

A referee must present the ball to the captain of the winning team at the end of a provincial or All-Ireland final.

It is illegal to play the ball again after taking a free/penalty/sideline puck before another player has played it, unless the ball rebounds off the goal-posts or crossbar.