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11th Feb 2024

Scary incident shows why GAA adopted zero tolerance approach to helmet pulls

This really is serious stuff


Back in 2010, Tipperary full back Declan Fanning required 25 stitches to put his ear back together.

During the first minute of the eventual All-Ireland champions’ qualifier match with Wexford, Stephen Banville pulled Fanning’s head around by the helmet like the Tipp man was just a cotton rag doll before eventually ripping the thing off him.

The guard had caught the defender’s ear though and sliced it right open.

The result? A yellow card for both players.

Fanning came off and needed serious treatment. In the next game, he appeared with a layer of protection for his ear on his helmet.

The GAA came out strongly that summer and warned that such incidents would “soon” be punished with a red card.

In classic GAA fashion though, it wasn’t until the 2014 season that the rule was actually brought in.

In Lar Corbett’s book, All In My Head, the Premier county legend described what happened with Fanning at the time.

“Dec’s helmet was pulled off and his ear was torn almost in two,” Corbett writes.

“Peter Murchan had some serious work to attend to in the dressing room and anyone who saw the injury was shocked by it.

“Declan came back and sat on the bench, shaken.

“He wouldn’t play at full back again that year but fortunately for him and us he was just as capable at wing back and that’s where he slotted in for the rest of the season. Imagine he was less versatile, what he would’ve missed out on.

“The GAA are great for their disciplinary groups – the CCC, the CAC and the CHC – but little was done about Declan’s injury.”

The rule now reads that players will be punished accordingly – with a red card – if they: ‘behave in any way which is dangerous to an opponent, including to deliberately pull or take hold of the face guard or any other part of an opponent’s helmet.’

It’s a crucial enforcement there for a very important purpose. Any hurler who’s ever had their helmet or face guard pulled will know fine rightly how your head automatically succumbs to the momentum. You lose all power, your neck jerks whatever way you’re being dragged and the offender can basically do whatever he wants with you.

But, right now, the rules are clear. If you interfere with an opponent’s helmet, you get a red card. If you don’t want a red card, don’t interfere with his helmet.

Declan Fanning still has the scars to show why we shouldn’t even dare to be even a little bit more lenient on incidents like what happened to him.