They got so much right.
So much about their black card is right. But even when detailing what they were trying to address and eliminate from the game that they love and have served, the Football Review Committee inadvertently outlined just why some confusion and objections about their most high-profile proposal will with good reason continue.
Last Saturday, in making a late case to delegates at Congress last weekend, FRC member Paul Earley showed a two- minute video clip (tinyurl.com/c8osj3p). =.
The first segment involved examples of “to deliberately pull down an opponent”, with Galway’s Pearse Hanley rugby-tackling Sligo’s Paul McGovern in the square in last year’s Connacht semi-final, Armagh’s Brendan Donaghy rugby-tackling a Longford attacker clear on goal — but just outside the square — in this year’s league and Cork’s Pearse O’Neill hauling down Kildare’s Alan Smith by the knees in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final. On all three counts, neither you nor the offending player could have an argument. While no player was deserving of a red card, all were more than yellow cards too and it was that middle ground that black card was addressing.
The next category was “to deliberately trip an opponent” and again the video featured three examples. Two of them were clearcut intentional fouls that were undoubtedly worthy of a black card: Kerry’s David Moran foot-tripping Cork’s Aidan Walsh in a league game; Kildare’s Peter Kelly hand-tripping Diarmuid Connolly just as he’s about to pull the trigger on goal. But the first example, a Mark McHugh challenge on Stephen O’Neill, wasn’t a deliberate foul in these eyes. At a push, it was a yellow card. But for McHugh to be issued a black card for that challenge and to be dismissed for the rest of the game would have been not just harsh but wrong. It wasn’t remotely in the same category of offence as Kelly and Moran’s infractions that followed.
The FRC were even less convincing in their choice of examples of “to deliberately body collide with an opponent”.
There was so many dangerous and blatant body checks that they could have used from through the years: the high elbow left out to floor the runner looking for the return pass; the defender sidestepping five metres to his right to check the runner; there were enough hits on Kieran McGeeney alone that they could have chosen to make their point. Instead the four the FRC used were worth no more than yellow cards. In fact, one of them wasn’t even a yellow card: it arguably wasn’t even a foul.
A Castlehaven player was tracking a Dr Crokes defender coming out with the ball in last December’s Munster club final, and as the Crokes defender kept running right at him, the Crosshaven man pushed his hands out to protect himself rather than being run over. Naturally the Crokes man went flying back, but was the Castlehaven man supposed to get out of his way or let him steamroll him? It’s a recurring issue in this year’s league, players getting yellow-carded for doing no more than pushing out to protect their space and standing their ground when the man off-loading the ball runs right at them.
There’s an element of cynicism at play already, for the off-loader to run right at a nearby opponent, and it could become even more common with the advent of the black card. Why not try crashing into a Karl Lacey after offloading the ball in the hope he’ll be the one seen to be cynical? In trying to stem cynicism, the black card could fuel cynicism.
Certainly somebody-checking is deliberate and is a step up from your regular yellow card. But to lump our friend from Castlehaven and even Monaghan’s Tommy Freeman in the video with the same sanction as Armagh’s Donaghy and Kildare’s Kelly would for their deliberate and cynical goal-stopping fouls is madness.
What’s it going to be like in real time for referees? You could also claim the real downside of the black card rule is that it had no trial period, but while that would help, the reality is next year’s league will serve as that. After a few rounds of that competition, refs won’t black card our friend from Castlehaven or even Freeman, merely yellow card them. But the great thing is they will black card the legitimate and dangerous body checks and the rugby tackles and the hand and foot trips.
No footballer writer throughout the noughties wrote more about the blight of cynical fouling and the need to tackle it than I. That another football writer, Eugene McGee, has been so committed and successful in addressing it is hugely welcome. But watch those body checks, ref. They’re not all as cynical or clearcut as some would have them made out.
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