HomeGAADummies Guide to GAA – Basic rules of Gaelic Football & Hurling

Dummies Guide to GAA – Basic rules of Gaelic Football & Hurling

Here is a Dummies Guide to GAA – Here at Sportsnewsireland, we have put together a beginner’s basic rules guide to GAA. 

Basic Rules:

If the ball goes over the crossbar but between the posts, it’s worth a point. If it finds the net it’s called a goal, which is worth three points. For example, if the score is 5-2 to 0-4, the first team is winning by 13 points. Such a big margin in Gaelic Football is a rarity though, which very few fans (mostly from Limerick) have had to endure.

Handballs are allowed and so are those dangerous looking sticks. Only the ladies are allowed to pick the ball straight off the ground without using their foot, which according to the scientists who designed the rules is an impossible skill for the fairer sex to master.

Players can pass by kicking and punching or hand-passing the ball. i.e. no throwing allowed. You’re allowed to hand-pass the ball over for a point but it is illegal to score a goal using this method. For counties such as Carlow, it is seemingly illegal to score a goal using any method.


This vitriolic battle cry will be howled from the stands. You may be asking yourself if the Brit Award winning Pop group of the late 90s have a cult following in Westmeath, but this is actually a plea to the referee to award their team a free. In Gaelic Football a player can only take four steps with the ball in hand before they must solo the ball (kick into their own hands) or bounce it ( but not twice in a row). If a spectator believes a player has carried the ball while taking more than the allowed number of steps, they will shout “steps!” at the man in the middle to let him know. If the referee fails to see the incident, it is often referred to as a tragedy. (No really, there’s no correlation.)

Croke Park:

Some of the more passionate fans argue that the GAA transcends sport, and for a lot of people it serves as their religion. For the believers, Croke Park is their Mecca. A couple of times a year, GAA fans from the length and breadth of the country make their pilgrimage to the famous stadium in the nation’s capital to witness the holy war that is the All Ireland final. The baying public in the stands witness the bloodshed and carnage on the pitch as the soldiers do battle, vying for the accolades and the bragging rights for their county.

The pitch at Croke Park is sacred ground. It is where legends are born and champions drink from the sweet cup of glory. The fact that it acts as a venue for One Direction concerts in the off season does not tarnish its sanctity.

Square ball: It sounds like an oxymoron, but I can assure you it isn’t. This is a technical foul in Gaelic football where an attacking player is inside the small rectangle in front of goals at the moment the ball enters the small square. As of 2012, it only applies when the ball is kicked from a set piece. A free out is awarded to the defending team in this scenario. If you haven’t got the grasp of it yet, do not worry. The rule is as complex to understand as it is infuriatingly difficult to explain.

Black Card: This accompanies the yellow and red cards in the referee’s pocket. It is reserved for cynical fouls including tripping, pulling down and body checking. If a player receives a Black Card they are ordered off the pitch for the rest of the game but their team is allowed to bring on a substitute as a replacement. Receiving a Black Card does not mean that a player has been sentenced to death, as a recent episode of Gift Grub might have you believe.


In hurling there is a massive variation in the major rivalries which includes Kilkenny vs Tipperary, Kilkenny vs Cork and Tipperary vs Cork. While in football the main rivalries are Dublin vs Meath, Galway v Mayo, Cork vs Kerry, Armagh vs Tyrone and Longford vs success.

List of GAA Rule Changes for 2020 

(1) Two Tier Championship

Counties competing in Division 3 and 4 of the Allianz League for 2021 will not contest the All-Ireland Football Championship. They may play in it if they reach their respective provincial final. This will lead to the bottom 16 teams of the league playing in an as-yet-unnamed second-tier competition.

(2) GAA Mark

Players who take a ‘mark’ or clean possession inside the oppositions 45 will be rewarded with a free-kick. Players can choose to play on or signal to the referee that they wish to take the free instead. This can be brought back to the 13m line for balls caught between there and the end line. The proposal, which was trialed in the 2019 League.

(3) GAA Sin Bin

If a player gets a black card they will now spend will spend 10 minutes off the field. No substitute allowed, reducing his side’s numbers for that period. A second black card, or a black following a yellow, will result in a red card. The player will sent off for the rest of the match.

(4) New GAA kick out rules

To try and avoid all the short kick-outs. All kick-outs must now be taken from the 20-metre line rather than the current mark of the 13m line. The ball must travel forward and all players must be at least 13m away and outside the D and 20m line when the kick is taken.

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