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16th Sep 2019

Penalties the name of the game but surely there’s a better way

Niall McIntyre

When would a club team ever practice penalties?

You have your free-taker who’s usually the penalty taker too and that’s their business. Might see them knocking about with a bag of balls before training.

Honing and perfecting. It doesn’t just happen on the day.

The art of the dead ball is a pressurised and refined one. Practice is fundamental and goes with the territory. Teammates understand too. Winning or losing often comes down to the clutch frees. Belt away to your hearts content.

But these teammates are sharp too. They’ll latch onto anything. Anything at all that gives them an opportunity to slag or to jeer and that’s why the free-taking practice must be left to the free-taker alone. Rule one.

Step out of your zone, get too big for your boots and you will be roasted quicker than you could strike a point from the 21. It’s just not worth belting the ball away for the sake of the slaughtering that will follow.

‘There are 14 lads here who’d be asked to hit one before you’

Last time that will happen. Lesson learned. And so it’s left to the experts.

With the inter-county year finally finished, club season is full steam ahead. The majority of championships are in and around the business stages. You had quarter finals in Clare, semis in Antrim while Tipperary while a couple of others are in and around the last sixteen stages.

It’s win or bust. Kill or be killed. And two championship games from around the country were decided by a penalty shootout competition. One of them knock-out, another crucial.

It all seems just a tad rushed. In fairness, down in Clare they have been running a ‘winner-on-the-day’ format all year. Clubs were made aware that if extra-time failed to separate the teams, that a penalty shootout would swing the balance.

And here we are. Sixmilebridge (2) and Broadford were dead-locked in the Clare IHC and it all came down to a penalty shootout. Three penalty takers each. Sixmilebridge missed all three, one of the great dead-ball experts of his generation included. Niall Gilligan’s effort was saved and Broadford, with two of their players hitting bullseye were into the semi-final.

After 80 minutes of hurling, it just doesn’t seem right to have a championship defined by a skill that players haven’t properly practiced.

The same went down in the Monaghan SFC. Truagh Gaels were defeated by Scotstown in a penalty shootout after a Rory Beggan masterclass.

As it stands, it is up to the individual county boards and relevant delegates to decide whether or not a shootout is deployed.

We know the club season is tightly packed. Are well aware that weekends are at a premium. But surely there’s a better way.