For a lowdown on what the new smart sliotar entails, go here.
1. U20s will train with smart sliotars
The new balls will be trialled in the upcoming All-Ireland U20 hurling championship, which takes place in April and May.
Before the games, 24 unbranded balls will be supplied to each team in a sliotar bin.
Smart sliotar work group member Brendan Cummins said that counties will be given smart sliotars to train with before the provincial competitions begin.
“Each one of the county teams involved in the U20 championship this year will get a sample of balls to train with,” he said.
“So it’s not the first time one of their free-takers or their goalie gets the ball or any of their players in the first round of the championship, this ball with a red dot on it and they’re going putting it down.
“I know from dealing with the U20s, you don’t want to throw out anything that spooks them for all the world so each manager will get a supply of balls to make sure there’s fairness across it, to practise in training with those balls.
“I thought that was very important to say as well so it’s not just, ‘Here’s the ball, off you go.’”
2. Will the GAA target bas sizes next?
A lack of standardisation of sliotars has long been a bugbear of hurling folk. The GAA first started to work in the area back in 2003, so it’s been a lengthy process.
Another issue that has been much-discussed in recent years as been the increasing size of the bas on hurleys, particularly those used by free-takers.
“Let’s get the sliotar done first and then we’ll look at the next round if we’re going to do anything,” said president Larry McCarthy when asked if the GAA had plans to authenticate bas sizes.
Cummins added, “It’s something maybe further down the line that I think the GAA will look at. Our brief certainly was just to make sure we’d modernised the sliotar design and standardised the manufacture of it to know where it came from. We’ve done that.
“Maybe that’s an exercise the GAA can look at further down the road. I know certainly if I’m a player or free-taker, if I can get a bas that’s slightly bigger then I’m going for it and that’s what everybody is doing. For the time being that seems to be okay.”
Reading in between the lines, once the sliotars are addressed there’s every possibility McCarthy will turn his attentions to standardising bas sizes.
3. Other uses for smart sliotars
As it stands the microchip in the smart sliotars is there for traceability purposes. Cummins said the insertion of the tag made “no difference whatsoever” to how the ball behaved.
Can the sliotar identify if it has crossed the goal-line?
“That’s a different technology altogether,” said McCarthy. “It would be a heavier technology and at the moment there are no systems out there that would be able to do that accurately without changing how the ball behaves. This is merely around being able to identify that this is an official sliotar.”
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Illegal handpasses is another hot topic in the GAA at present, but Cummins said it won’t be possible to develop technology in a sliotar to show if the ball has been properly played.
“(Not) unless you put a chip in every player’s hand which brings the human rights issues completely out the window!” said the Tipperary legend.
However, he feels “players will adjust” in the coming weeks.
“Last year we had a free-taking competition in the first three rounds of the league and we all thought our game was bust, we all had our head in our hands and it ironed itself out and it’ll be the exact same way with this – players will learn,” said Cummins.
“If they’re training four or five nights a week, they’re thinking about hurling every day of the week, it’s their absolute life so they will work out that ‘if I don’t have clear space in my hand then it’s a free and it costs my team’
“And they will adapt very, very quickly, the next couple of rounds of the league I would expect you’ll see less and less of that and we won’t be talking about it I hope by the time we get to championship.”
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