Larry Ryan: Room to improve but sin bins are for naive cynics

Larry Ryan: Room to improve but sin bins are for naive cynics

It’s a known addiction. Dreams of bigger windows, terrazzo floors, cupboards with no handles so visitors won’t know they are cupboards at all.

But will a granite worktop fill the emptiness inside? Or just draw attention to the state of your cabinets? And wouldn’t everything be solved if only you had that island in the kitchen?

The Franks warned of this restlessness a long time ago: “I still like my old three-piece suite. But it’s in the shed and I’ve got no seat, oh no no.”

The gurus online put it plainer: “Obsessed with home decorating? You may have self-image problems.” And of course that’s where it started with Gaelic football. Thorough disgust with itself.

Now they find themselves compulsively nipping and tucking, knocking out a wall here, adding an advanced mark there. And still the obvious adjustments are resisted; 11-a-side, no points, handball.

They will likely have to rebuild the whole thing again soon, as they may have knocked out a supporting pillar. But it keeps them occupied.

And it was a largely victimless obsession. Until now, that the contagion has spread to hurling.

Ordinarily, the self-image of hurling would be robust enough, this time of year, to resist the advances of a Dermot Bannon. An ideas man.

As John Kiely put it last week, releasing the dogs on hurling’s Bannons: “The game is fine, leave it alone. Please.”

To labour things a bit, hurling is already the good room in the GAA’s house. Even if that means it’s only sparingly used on special occasions.

But somehow, hurling has found itself vulnerable this spring. Perhaps it was the small surge of ennui triggered by the return of Tipp and Kilkenny to an All-Ireland final.

Or maybe hurling people got a taste for redecoration with the new yellow ball. While we’re at it at all, what about building on a sin bin?

The sin bin has always held a certain fascination for GAA folk. Perhaps it’s down to the widespread removal of old-style confession boxes.

There were several flirtations with getting one in, but in the end most people thought better of it, same as with hot tubs. Until now.

The Gah has already topped up its improvements loan to tack on a penitentiary. But the sudden conviction that a hurling sin bin must be built in time for the visitors’ arrival come championship is what we would once have called afigary.

In 2011, Diarmaid ÓMuirithe’s Words We Don’t Use (Much Anymore) listed figary (or figairey) as endangered, on the brink of extinction.

It is surely due a comeback in this age of snap decisions and Trumpian whims.

Out of nowhere, football made the man who can catch a ball king. And this figary has momentum too. Cork will back it. Barry Kelly has endorsed it. Hurling Development chair Jimmy O’Dwyer is on board.

Larry Ryan: Room to improve but sin bins are for naive cynics

All hands are on deck in the supposed War on Cynicism.

In all sports, there is a certain disconnect between what managers and players see as good decision-making and outsiders regard as cynicism.

When is a foul the right thing to do?

In Gaelic football, that line is a lot clearer because the likes of Patrick Horgan won’t be sticking the free over the bar from 100 yards.

In Gaelic football, if you are asking yourself whether you should foul, the answer is usually yes.

But of course 90% of these fouls are not punishable by a visit to the sin bin purely because an opponent hasn’t fallen over in a particular way.

There is only a penance for the player who pulls his man down instead of holding him up. It is a war on the naive cynic.

In hurling, the decision on whether to foul demands enough nuance to be an entertaining sideshow in itself.

An early yellow for a cynical corner-back is a significant handicap that any top-of-the-ground forward will exploit. There is a tightrope of uncertainty between professionalism and indiscipline.

Larry Ryan: Room to improve but sin bins are for naive cynics

Yet the game’s standing committee on playing rules insists the sin bin will solve everything and they have numbers to prove it.

Of 625 fouls over 20 matches between 2017 and ’19, they say 29 were ‘professional’, with no attempt made to fairly win back possession.

Yet it is their own breakdown of those 29 fouls that illustrates the pitfalls in what they are trying to achieve: 16 attracted a yellow card, one a red, and 12 no card at all.

In other words, they want to add a fresh sanction to the armoury of referees who can’t be persuaded to consistently apply the ones already available to them.

There was such an episode in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Saturday when Sean O’Brien, already on yellow, capsized Alan Cadogan from behind.

His case looked open and shut, but James Owens explored whatever grey area was available to him and settled for the finger wag and the ‘don’t make me come over to you again, Sean’.

He might have got black. Because that appears to be the most likely use of any new hurling construction — as a halfway house, a fudge.

A means of avoiding the ultimate sanction. A holding cell for petty criminals.

There is even talk that Richie Hogan could have been spared, last August, with 10 minutes to reflect and three Hail Marys.

Of course Richie’s sin won’t be covered by black-card legislation. But once you’ve got a taste for the nipping and tucking there’s always something else to be done.

And if the sin bin fills up with players come championship, we can always build another extension.

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