“A bit Game of Thrones, isn’t it?” – GAA + Sky TV

GAA basics from Sky

Sky Sports will be screening 20 live matches from this summer’s GAA championships.

And while most of you will be more than familiar with the rules and regulations of Ireland’s two most popular sports, there will be some people in dire need of a beginner’s guide!

With that in mind, skysports.com has drawn up a basic introduction to Gaelic football and hurling, which will help people grasp some of the aspects of both codes.

Gaelic Games

Both Gaelic football and hurling are 15-a-side

Gaelic football is played with a ball that is slightly smaller than that used in soccer, while in hurling players use a stick – or hurley – to strike the ball, called a sliotar, which is similar in size to a hockey ball. Hurling is believed to the oldest and fastest field sport in the world.

Teams in both codes consist of 15 players – one goalkeeper, six defenders, two midfielders and six forwards. Six substitutions can be made in football, five in hurling.

Matches are played on a pitch that is bigger than that used for soccer and rugby – it can be up to 145m long and 90m wide. Goalposts are similar to rugby, with the crossbar slightly lower. Lines are marked parallel to the end lines at distances of 13m, 20m, 45m and 65m. The middle of the pitch is marked with a small parallel line that has a maximum length of 10m.


A player must solo the ball after every four steps

Inter-county matches consist of two 35-minute halves, while club games are 30 minutes per half.

In Gaelic football, players are allowed to carry the ball in their hands and it can be kicked or hand-passed. After every four steps the player must bounce or solo the ball. A solo involves dropping the ball onto your boot and kicking it back into your hand. You cannot bounce the ball twice in succession but you can solo as many times as you wish. The ball cannot be lifted straight off the ground – a player must put his boot under it.

Shoulder-to-shoulder contact is permitted, while a player can slap the ball out of an opponent’s hand. More than one player can tackle the player in possession but their tackle must be aimed at the ball. Deliberate body contact such as punching, tripping, jersey pulling or a full frontal charge is forbidden, as is blocking an opponent’s shot with the foot.

In hurling, the ball can be struck on the ground or in the air – with the hurley or boot – but it must be lifted off the ground with your hurley. The ball can be carried in your hand for a maximum of four steps. After that you can bounce the ball on the hurley and back to your hand, but you cannot catch the ball more than twice. Players get around this by balancing the ball on their hurley while running.

Players can block an opponent’s strike using their hurley. They can also hook a player’s hurley as he is attempting the strike the ball. Like football, shoulder-to-shoulder contact is also permitted.


A goal is scored when the ball crosses the goalline between the posts and under the crossbar, while a point is scored when the ball goes over the crossbar. A goal is the equivalent of three points. Teams’ scores are written in a goals-points format. For example, 2-10 is two goals and 10 points, which is a total of 16 points.

A goal is signalled by the umpire raising a green flag, while a white flag signals a point. The game restarts with the goalkeeper kicking out the ball from the 13-metre line.


Each county competes in their provincial championship before then competing for the All-Ireland Championship.

There are four provincial championships in football – Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster – and three in senior hurling – Leinster, Munster and Ulster. However, the Ulster Hurling Championship is a standalone competition, meaning the winners don’t advance to the latter stages of the All-Ireland series.

Galway are the only county to play senior hurling in Connacht so they compete in Leinster, as do Antrim.

When a county loses a provincial game they enter the All-Ireland qualifiers. The provincial winners progress to the All-Ireland quarter-finals in football, and semi-finals in hurling.

Match officials comprise of a referee, two linesmen and four umpires.

Two umpires stand at either end of the pitch – beside each goalpost – and signal scores, wides, ’45s’ or ’65s’, and assist the referee in controlling the game.

Dead balls

A ’45’ is awarded when a defending player knocks the ball over his own endline

A ’45’ is signalled in football when a defending player knocks the ball over his own endline. Instead of a corner like in soccer, a free-kick is awarded to the opposing team on the 45-metre line. The same occurs in hurling but the free is taken from the 65-metre line.

When a team plays the ball out over the sideline in football, a free-kick from the hands shall be awarded to the opposing team. In hurling, a sideline cut is awarded, but the player must strike the ball off the ground.


A black card is awarded in Gaelic football for a cynical foul

Yellow and red cards are issued in both codes but there is also a black card in football, which is issued for cynical behaviour fouls such as deliberately pulling down an opponent. The offending player is ordered off but can be replaced, provided the team hasn’t already used their full quota of six substitutions.



Top ten unofficial rules of GAA


With the recent advent of Sky Sports covering GAA matches, we’ve noticed (even more) puzzlement with some refereeing decisions. The problem is many of the rules of hurling and football are not in the official rulebook. They are handed from generation to generation.

Here are 10 of the most important unofficial rules of the game that GAA referees traditionally observe.

1 If any team breaks a deadlock by scoring as time runs out, the referee shall give the losing side a chance to square the match. Should the winning team gain possession from the puck/ kick-out, it is okay to blow the full-time whistle. But it is seen as considered bad form to end the match if the losing side has the ball.

Known as the . . . One for the road rule.

2 It is, of course, a foul for a player going up for a high ball to knee an opposing player in the back or elbow them in the face . . . unless they catch it. Then, well, fair play.

Known as the . . . Machiavelli rule.

3 player is not fouling the ball if an opposing player is fouling them at the same time. Therefore, a referee will not start counting steps a player takes with the ball in hand until the opposing player has let go of their jersey.

Known as the . . . What’s good for the goose rule.

3A Subsection to the above rule: The more likely a player is to score a goal, the more steps the referee will allow them to take with ball in hand.

Known as the . . . Forwards rule! rule.

4 One-on-one fights are the responsibility of the referee. However anything involving more than two or three players can be construed as a melee and the referee only has to note its occurrence for a later committee.

Known as the . . . One death is a tragedy, 30 is a statistic rule.

5 The only thing on the ref’s mind when throwing in a sliotar is not getting hit himself. Where it goes, or who else gets hit, is not his problem.

Known as the . . . Every man for himself rule.

6 Players should try not to get on the wrong side of the umpires. Apart from them possibly having to make a 50-50 call later in the game, one of them is probably the referee’s lift home.

Known as the . . . My mate’s the boss rule.

7 Umpires can change their minds at any time. They may for example, put their hand up to draw the referee’s attention to an off-the-ball incident . However, if the referee doesn’t notice the signal inside a minute, it’s perfectly acceptable to put their arm down and forget the incident ever happened.

Known as the . . . My arm is getting sore rule.

8 If the crowd loudly complains that a free-taker has stolen a few extra yards before placing the ball, the referee will insist the player retreats even if he didn’t see it happen. GAA referee’s trust the crowd more than the player.

Known as the . . . Home town benefits rule.

9 After awarding a free, the ref may bring the ball forward 13 metres for dissent. However, no referee is expected to know how far 13 metres is – anywhere between five metres and half the length of the pitch is considered acceptable. Unlike soccer, no magic spray needed.

Known as the . . . A piece of string rule.



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