JOHN FOGARTY: Sin bin offers referees comfort

Derry, March 23, 2013. Overcome with emotion, Football Review Committee chairman Eugene McGee sheds a tear upon the announcement that the black card, against the odds, has received 71% support and will come into rule.

Later that day on a bus ferrying delegates back to their hotel, GAA president Liam O’Neill is beaming. In 2009 as head of the disciplinary task force, he had attempted to curb cynicism with the “yellow card” automatic substitution proposal. He was narrowly defeated but in creating the committee headed up by McGee and applying the black card to football only he is right to bask in a sense of accomplishment.

Those who have lined up to take a swipe at McGee for his defence of the black card should appreciate not only the standing of the man in the game but his love for it. O’Neill’s determination to make the games fairer was a noble cause. There are obvious flaws in the application of the black card but the principle behind it remains sound.

Although, it was and always has been a compromise. Eleven years ago, the sin bin was put forward only to be ditched prior to the league because too many players were being sidelined for 10 minutes. That it applied to hurling was one shortcoming; that any player making two cautionable fouls had to cool their heels was another. It was unwieldy and harsh and so for the league campaign, teams who had players yellow carded were allowed to replace them.

At least in 2009 the attempt to fight cynicism was more direct when O’Neill listed the six fouls which would warrant an automatic substitution. Eight votes at that year’s Congress in Cork were all that stopped it being introduced. That it was also proposed for hurling didn’t help and Brian Cody made a strong if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix it argument. Cody’s concern at the time about a player being removed and replaced for a clumsy rather than a cynical foul in an All-Ireland final seems prophetic in light of recent events.

The sin bin would at least have made that punishment temporary but the misgivings about its practicality remain. “It was found the last time in the research that it was almost impractical to operate at club level around the country,” said GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail last week. “That was one of the major issues. The number of officials. If you have two local clubs operating, the black card is operated by the referee and that’s it. But if he has a sin bin, it’s timing and a lot more challenging.”

Ó Fearghail’s recollection is accurate. The GAA’s director of games development Pat Daly, who put forward the sin bin proposal in 2005 and worked alongside O’Neill in ’09, admitted six years ago: “The sin bin is fine for rugby as a game and as a culture and there may well come a time when it is suitable in GAA. But not now. The fact is that referees at junior level would be unable to operate it.”

But just how unmanageable would the sin bin be? It’s been a veritable success in ladies football at all levels. Right down to junior underage in rugby where often touch judges are recruited from the competing teams, the sin bin has been in operation for the guts of 20 years with little in the way of logistical problems.

Aside from the essential advantages the sin bin has over the black card — it would punish the team more so than the player therefore not seem as personal and be more of a deterrent, conversely and almost paradoxically it would also appeal to the GAA’s ambivalent attitude towards discipline. Notwithstanding those players who escaped black card, the outcry that followed the removal of Robbie Kiely, James McCarthy, Jonny Cooper and Lee Keegan wouldn’t be so loud were they to miss a fraction of a match instead of its remainder.

It would be a more useful tool for referees, some of whom have been lax in showing early black cards. We don’t have to be told how much they want to avoid being the bad guy. In 2013, they supported a cumulative black card amnesty from the All-Ireland semi-final on so that players wouldn’t miss All-Ireland final day. We have also seen how reluctant they have been to issue straight red cards in All-Ireland semi-finals.

Unlike 2005, were the sin bin applicable only to cynical fouls it would be a lot more agreeable. The arguments against its impracticality at the lowest rungs of the ladder don’t really wash unless what officials are really trying to say is Gaelic football referees are poorer than those in ladies football, rugby and the like.

The sin bin wouldn’t make their life more difficult but distinctly more comfortable.

Fixture headache a familiar failing for Déise board

How’s this for a fixtures pile-up? Next Friday, Lismore and Modeligo face off in Waterford’s west intermediate hurling final, in Fraher Field. The winners take on Dunhill in the county decider the following Thursday, just three days before the new champions are away to face Cork representatives, Bandon.

The Waterford County Board will also be praying there are winners in this Sunday’s senior final between Ballygunner and Passage as the victors are scheduled to face Thurles Sarsfields in Semple Stadium the following weekend.

If you include Ballygunner’s abandoned game against Abbeyside, they face the possibility of seven outings in as many weeks. Passage have had one free weekend in the same time-span.

Waterford’s senior football champions aren’t in provincial action until November 13, when they take on Carbery Rangers or Monaleen, which is just as well considering two of the quarter-finals still haven’t been played.

The presence of Waterford’s U21s in this year’s final complicated matters for the county’s competitions control committee and Modeligo’s replay against Brickey Rangers also caused a headache but these situations are becoming too frequent for Waterford. It’s only 12 months since Stradbally had to represent the county in Munster a day after beating Ballinacourty in the senior football final.

Like Tipperary, they may have to look at their championship structures if they are to serve club players better.

A Marc of class

Speaking upon his retirement last week, Marc Ó Sé acknowledged that he is interested in punditry — although he admitted his chances of gaining a chair on The Sunday Game are slim because of the presence on the programme of his brother Tomás.

Fear not, eir Sport and Sky Sports will be sourcing his number if they haven’t done so already.

Tomás, though, has a knack of either getting there before his younger sibling. Tomás’s gesture of presenting the ball to Stephen Cluxton at the end of the 2011 All-Ireland final, earned him oodles of praise for his sportsmanship. But we recall just as classy a gesture from Marc on the night of the 2009 “startled earwigs” All-Ireland quarter-final when he came to the aid of an inebriated member of the beaten Dublin camp.

The win meant so much to him, and he revelled in how Kerry did a job on Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs. But he still had the presence of mind to break away from his celebrations to show such magnanimity.

For a player who, as a man-marker, had more reason than his brothers to foul, it says plenty about Ó Sé that he was the cleanest of the three. When the margins are so thin between them as footballers, that may just make him the best.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie 

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