THE FOGARTY FORUM: Discipline coming at a heavy price

Three minutes into the second half of Donegal’s Division One opener in Croke Park last Saturday week, Michael Murphy illegally hauled down Mikey Conway as the Kildare man attempted to make his way out of defence.

The significance of the foul wouldn’t have been lost on those familiar with the Jim McGuinness-Kieran McGeeney row after the counties’ epic 2011 All-Ireland quarter-final.

McGuinness, remember, took serious issue with McGeeney afterwards for what he believed was a planted article carried in the national newspapers earlier that day.

Then Kildare selector, current Waterford selector Niall Carew, had been quoted citing the volume of “professional fouls” made by Donegal forwards in their opponents’ half of the field.

McGuinness interpreted the interview as an underhand means of attempting to persuade referee David Coldrick of Donegal’s cynicism.

Going by his verbal exchange with McGeeney at the final whistle of extra-time, Murphy appeared to believe the same as his manager.

On learning of McGuinness’s comments, McGeeney described them as “childish”.

It was an absorbing encounter after a thoroughly absorbing game, a squabble that underlined the downright competitiveness of the two men.

With just a smidgeon of irony, the subject returned to us earlier this month, Murphy’s infringement punished by referee Cormac Reilly with a yellow card.

Except now, that foul on Conway can be viewed in a different prism. Were the Football Review Committee’s (FRC) black card to be introduced, the Donegal captain would have seen the line and been replaced by a substitute.

His team’s fightback would also have stalled given he was conducting it almost all by himself (he also added another four points thereafter).

We don’t mean to single out Murphy or Donegal here. Over the opening two weekends of the National League, his foul was but one of several that would otherwise have seen players leave the field of play for cynical play.

Of the staggeringly high 40 frees or so given in the first half of the Kerry-Dublin game in Killarney on Sunday, a handful could have been considered systematic, cynical or at least bordering on either.

Last Saturday, five red cards were dished out in the Cavan-Monaghan Division Three game. Two of them were for second yellow card offences, which are, truth be told, the real indicators of cynical play in terms of repeated fouling.

The weekend before, 18 yellow cards were brandished in the Louth-Westmeath Division Two fixture. The same afternoon, four of Mayo’s six backs picked up yellow cards against Kerry. The evening prior to those games, 10 were issued by Reilly between Kildare and Donegal.

Forgetting the heavy pitches and the predominance of physical training at this time of year, Gaelic football doesn’t yet seem to realise that it has a problem.

Yet of the eight games in Division One, nothing came close to the electricity of that game. Ignore the cold that evening and you might think it was the 2011 quarter-final all over again.

The problem with cynicism is that it’s a cosy bedfellow of intensity. One rarely goes without the other. When the likes of former Meath manager Seamus McEnaney warn of its potential impact on the physicality of the game, he isn’t entirely wrong.

However, those in charge of counties who plead the black card will lead to confusion are pushing it. What the proposal boils down to is making three higher end yellow card offences automatic substitute offences.

Deliberately pull down, trip or body-check an opposing player and you’re off the field to be replaced by somebody else. The question of what is deliberate is an important one but the black card won’t muddy the water as some with vested interests claim.

As GAA president Liam O’Neill said yesterday: “There is no difference with free-only offences. They’re still free-only offences. Red card offences are still red card offences. Yellow card offences are still yellow card offences.

“All the FRC, as I understand it, have altered are three yellow card offences are now sufficiently serious to merit you leave the field and be replaced by somebody else.”

FRC chairman Eugene McGee’s point that the number of black cards, if introduced, would decrease over time as counties coach their teams of the advantages in not picking them up is a moot one.

Doing as such would present an edge but right now the advantage lies in players taking turns to foul opponents to ensure they all stay on the field. It lies in stopping a man by whatever means to stagger an attack because the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

Right now, cynical play is falling between the cracks between what currently constitutes a yellow card and a red card.

It has to be dealt with but will we in turn lose out of potentially riveting future games between the likes of Donegal and Kildare?

Because that’s the way it seems. If we want prime fillet, we must chew through the gristle too.

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