Credit; John Condon Donal White
What is the Hook Tackle in Hurling?
Do you know?
If two people ever had a disagreement on the hook, where would they go for the definition? Well, the hook is a style of tackling in the sport, so they might reasonably go to the rulebook for the answer. They would be disappointed, or maybe even shocked.
When you read the rulebook with the hook in mind, the result is:
- The hook is not defined and has never been defined in the 140 odd years since the rules of the game have been codified.
- It is not mentioned anywhere as a legal action in the game.
- It is not a legal tackle, according to how the tackle is defined.
- Descriptions of fouls in the rulebook very accurately describe the hook.
- If you repeatedly perform a hook in a match, you could even receive a red card for your troubles, according to descriptions of certain rules of Foul Play.
Before I go further, let me be clear that I think the hook is a fantastic part of our game. It is skilful. It is clean.
These are the facts on the hook:
- The hurling rulebook does not mention the hook anywhere. Camogie took enough care to include it in their rules, while the GAA did not.
- In the hurling rulebook, there are 11 rules of The Play, contained within the larger section of the Rules of Fair Play. These rules fundamentally describe the sport. They allow you to catch the ball, to hit it with the hurley and to solo with it, among other things. The hook is not in these rules.
- These same rules of The Play allow you to “tackle an opponent for the ball”. They describe how to tackle for the ball, which is through a shoulder-to-shoulder fair charge. The hook tackle is not there.
- The tackle in hurling is defined as “any attempt to dispossess or reduce the advantage of opponent within the Rules of Fair Play. With the exception of the charge (fair), the tackle is aimed at the ball not the player.” Let’s break this down:
- The hook is certainly an “attempt to dispossess or reduce the advantage of opponent”, so it is in the spirit of a tackle as the rulebook describes it.
- But a legal tackle must be within the Rules of Fair Play, as required by the definition. The hook is not in those rules.
- And with the exception of the shoulder tackle, a tackle is aimed at the ball. The hook is aimed at the hurley.
- This all shows us the hook is not a legal tackle.
All of the above is enough to say that the hook is not a legal part of the sport of hurling.
Rules of Foul Play
But there is another section in the rules called the Rules of Foul Play. Do these have anything to say about the hook?
Aggressive foul 5.15 is “to strike an opponent’s hurley unless both players are in the act of playing the ball.”
And the rulebook defines “play the ball” as “to touch the ball”.
Foul 5.15 means it is a foul to strike an opponent’s hurley, unless both you and him are touching the ball. This is the foul commonly known as a “chop”. If you commit a chop on the opponent, most often it is when the ball is on his hurley, or about to be on his hurley, and you strike his hurley. That is a perfect break of foul 5.15.
This rule is also written in a way that it is not a foul for two players to pull on a ball simultaneously and strike or clash hurleys in the process. So far, so good.
However, the GAA made a fatal error with foul 5.15 because it also applies to the hook. Most commonly, when the hook takes place, there is an upward striking motion by the defender onto the oncoming hurley of the attacker about to hit the ball. And this happens at a moment when it is not the case that both players are in the act of playing the ball, thus breaking 5.15.
With this rule, they made a foul of both the chop and the hook. Both are acts of tipping or striking the opponent’s hurley, but the GAA did not distinguish between the two. They threw the baby out with the bath water. Although in this case, the baby, i.e. the hook, was never a legal part of the family in the first place, because it was omitted from the Rules of Fair Play.
To make things worse, we can make a very strong case that the hook breaks multiple rules of Foul Play.
Foul 4.9 is “to tip an opponent’s hurley in the air or to tip it up with hurley or foot, for the purpose of allowing the ball to pass through.” This may have been written with a certain purpose in mind, but it also quite accurately describes a hook. I’ll explain:
Just imagine you have thrown up the ball to hit it. At that moment, I tip your hurley so that the ball passes through the would-be area of contact, and falls to the ground. That was a perfect break of Foul 4.9.
The punishment for the hook
This seems like a crazy section of the article. But we’ve very reasonably shown here how the hook is an example of fouls 4.9 and 5.15. What is the punishment for those fouls?
Let’s keep this short. If you repeatedly commit foul 5.15, the punishment is at first a yellow card, and eventually a red.
Reminder: that’s the punishment for when you hook with an upward striking motion on the opponent’s hurley as they are hitting the ball.
The hook when the hurley is stationary
You might raise a question about the case of when the hook is performed with a stationary hurley held in the path of the swing of the attacker. This version of the hook seems to be a minority one, and in any case, when that hook happens there is still a strike of the hurlies with the ball not present at the location of contact. If there was no strike between the hurlies, there was no hook.
Taking foul 5.15 to mean exactly what it says (that seems fair!), the stationary hook would result in an infraction. You could argue that a strike -this time by the attacker with the ball – onto a defender’s stationary hurley in the hook position is not a deliberate strike of that hurley, and so not a foul. But the rule does not require it to be deliberate, even though it does require this standard of other fouls. And even then we are still accepting that the hook in any form is not a legal tackle. It’s clear it just needs to be legislated for.
What does it matter?
On a careful reading of the book, it is clear that playing the opponent’s hurley was not a desired part of the sport. With the exception of the shoulder charge, it is a completely ball-focussed sport.
Tipping or striking the opponent’s hurley when they’re about to play the ball is a foul (5.15 and 4.9), but the hook is essentially a skilful version of this tipping or striking motion. This makes it unique in the game, but was never recognised as such by rule-makers. As far as the rules are concerned, it is a forgotten and illegal part of the sport.
“But what does all this matter?” you might say. “We know what a hook is! And the ref will never blow a free for it!”
But the referee’s first duty is “to control the game in accordance with the Playing Rules”. If the hook is a foul, there can never be any respect for the rules, and the referee can have no hope of performing his first duty. The referee’s source of power – the rulebook – is then openly acknowledged as a farcical document.
We will see that the hook being a foul is actually the least of our problems. There are things that the referee is currently not allowing in play, and which anyone would agree are not good for the game, but which are perfectly legal according to the rulebook. We will expose these problems in the coming weeks to make it clear to the GAA what needs to change.
But let’s take one thing at a time. I will not pose a problem without posing a solution. From what I’m aware, below is the first ever published suggestion for a definition of the hook. Of course, the final definition should be something agreed upon by a suitable panel. For the respect of hurling, and for the respect of referees, it’s time to put the hook in the book.
WHAT WE RECOMMEND
ADD THIS RULE TO THE RULES OF FAIR PLAY:
A player may tackle by hooking an opponent.
ADD THIS DEFINITION TO THE APPENDIX:
For a player to use his hurley to connect with an opponent’s hurley from behind, in order to deflect the arc of that opponent’s swing during his attempt to strike the ball.
It’s worth making a quick mention here of the block in hurling. When a player blocks purely on the ball, this is allowed for in the Rules of Fair Play (just about) and is not a breach of Foul 5.15 or any other foul once it is ball-focussed.
Like to Read More?
Thrown not blown, an in game analysis of the handpass in the 2021 Hurling Championship