There have always been some head-scratching rules in our game that have made it, at times, a little more dangerous than it should be, writes Todd Williams
Going as far back as my father’s playing days, I recall stories of PC’s being able to be hit at any height, the only proviso being that the ball hadn’t been deliberately “undercut”. This was where the hitter had deliberately intended to lift the ball with a slicing type of swing aimed at the underside of the ball. But while doing this was illegal, it was perfectly OK for the ball to be smashed at head height into the goal with a normal swing. The stories from my Dad standing on the line to some of the great Australian fullbacks of yesteryear, like Brian Glencross and Jim Mason, with stick AND HAND at the ready still make me shudder.
Eventually it was decided that there should be some limit to the height balls could be hit into the goal at a PC and the requirement for the straight shot to hit the 18 inch backboard that we still have today came into being. In my own career, I can remember it being legal at a point to “chip” the ball which involved a sliced hit (yes, that undercut again) that would lift the ball high and send it forward, over the heads (ideally) of the opposition. The idea I assume being that it would make the game more dynamic, as we see now with the aerial pass.
Suffice to say that idea far outshone the practicality. As any forward who played at the time will tell you, depending on who was in the opposition’s defence, the play was less dynamic more downright dangerous. One year an experimental rule allowed players to chip straight from a free hit which took it to a new level. For one angry left-half I played with, this was just the equivalent of shooting at the bobbing mechanical ducks at the fairground. He was so bad, one wounded opposition forward actually presented him with a teddy bear prize after the match. The rules’ scientists decreed shortly after it had been unsuccessful.
In the timely discussions we are now having about safety, the reverse hit issue is a recurring theme. The reverse is not the only issue in the game that warrants attention – take players on the line you see at indoor PC’s – but there are historical and technical points which should be refreshed. Fortunately, a chance catch-up with former GB player and coach Jason Lee reminded me of how and when the reverse stick hit arrived into the game. While we couldn’t remember the exact time it became legal, we worked out that it was around 1995 when international umpires just seemed to not blow their whistle when the inside edge of the stick was used. As Jason recalls it was a couple of Argentinian players who were the initial “experts”.
This is what has always worried me about the reverse hit – that it just kind of happened – and no one really said anything about it. We loved the goals but turned a blind eye to the danger. Maybe, 25 years on, you just get to a point where players and technology have moved on and you need to do something about it.
As a pretty good hitter of the ball on the forestick – you might say “real” hitting – my other concern with the reverse variety is the lack of skill that is required to execute it. If you compare the two sides, the forestick hit requires you to swing hard but at the same time with the control for the finite sweet spot on the face of the stick to make contact with a precise point on the ball. Compare that to the reverse where you simply need to get low enough to swing the blade so that you can – as coaches will say – “cut the ball in half”.
Which of course is why it is so appealing to players of all ages and abilities. So much more practice is required of junior players to hit the ball that hard on the forestick. And the fact that a slight miscalculation on the reverse can send the ball high into the net when you are shooting for goal is just an added bonus.
It’s also relevant to note why goalkeepers find the reverse stick shot so difficult. Apart from the power, the reverse is so much more difficult for them to read off the blade than from the face of the stick on the forehand side.
Outfield players know this as well and there’s an unsatisfactory logic in the fact that if the striker doesn’t know exactly where the ball is going then neither can the goalkeeper. There was a time where I know Australian defenders at the top level went completely against the coaching manual and started to channel European strikers onto their forestick, so proficient had the Dutch, Germans etc. become on the reverse side and weaker on the forestick.
And let’s not also forget the most damning of all arguments that Jason reminded me of. Shortly after the reverse stick blade became allowed, some players started doing the same on the forestick side. They’d roll their stick forward so that the stick faced the ground and then hit it with the inside edge. You should try it and see just how much harder you can hit the ball and how dangerously impossible it is to control. Which is why of course it was banned. Yes, banned.
But let’s not get too sentimental. We need to have sensible discussions of this debatable hybrid that we should have had back in the 90’s and then, as we do with PC’s, see how it impacts on our game today. Whether that bans the skill or controls it (e.g. can’t hit on the reverse into the circle) who knows. But unlike PC’s, we’ve never really gone there with the reverse hit and it’s time we did.
Todd Williams’ column appears regularly in our subscription-only newspaper
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