I reckoned he could give me an insight into the mindset of the men making these decisions.
Getting a contentious motion passed at the GAA’s Annual Congress is not a very easy thing to do. That’s mostly because a fair number of the delegates are congenitally incapable of pressing the ‘Yes’ button. The defiant streak in some officials was aptly demonstrated when Congress prepared to get under way at 9.30am on Saturday morning.
Two trial runs were held to show everyone how to cast votes with their electronic zappers.
In the first test, director general Páraic Duffy asked all the delegates to press their ‘Yes’ button. An obedient 98.26% complied with this request. Notably, however, 1.74% hit their ‘No’ button.
Worse was to follow in the second trial run when only 95.69% followed the instruction. A worrying 4.31% did their own thing.
Admittedly, it’s not a massive margin of error. But when you consider that the motion for ‘the mark’ lost by 1.84%, then it is concerning.
Yet, in saying that, it was this contrary mindset which enabled the black card motion to get passed at Congress.
There is no doubt that many officials defied their mandates.
Eugene McGee, the chairman of the Football Review Committee believed two key factors contributed to the swing.
“The button vote was crucial,” said McGee, but the “speakers won it”.
I would slightly disagree with the FRC chairman, the video evidence shown on the big screens was unquestionably the FRC’s trump card.
When FRC member Paul Earley made his presentation, delegates were shown a video-nasty of 10 different fouls, each one a text-book example of a deliberate pull-down, trip or body-check. There was no match commentary or supporting argument from Earley. There was no need. The action said it all.
Those who feared the black card might take the physicality out of football could see there was certainly nothing manly about the rugby-tackles, trips or sneaky third-man body checks which were shown. The visual evidence was a masterstroke. They say ‘seeing is believing’ and at the end of the clip there were a lot more believers in the hall.
Later, Pat McEnaney, the chairman of the National Referees’ Committee, revealed that all but one of the offences had resulted in a yellow card. Considering the ugly and cynical nature of the fouls, a booking seemed like a totally inadequate punishment.
By the end of a very one-sided debate, many fears and apprehensions had been allayed, opinions had changed, and mandates were ignored. As of January 1, 2014, football is now set to change.
Yet, anyone who thinks the black card is a panacea for all the ills of Gaelic football is gravely mistaken. This is really only a starting point.
The smarter coaches will adapt extremely quickly. From the start of next year, those big, blatant fouls will be much less prominent, particularly up until the last 10 minutes of a game. On the downside, there will probably be a marked increase in the volume of what those clever coaches call the ‘half-foul’.
This is the challenge where a player appears to be trying to make a valiant attempt at a fair tackle, but somehow gets his arm wrapped around the opponent and stops him in his tracks.
Unfortunately, even with the black card, we shall soon discover there is still plenty of scope in the modern game for cynical tactics.
Midfield will continue to be a haven for the dark arts as it still makes perfect sense to foul the catcher, and stop him from taking a quick free-kick.
That’s why it’s a huge shame that the mark (64.82%) and the 30m rule (54.68%) failed to get the two-thirdsmajority (66.66%) that was required.
With hindsight, the FRC will bitterly regret they didn’t provide video evidence which would have helped persuade delegates.
What might have happened if delegates had been shown a dozen examples of a midfielder like Darragh Ó Sé taking a clean catch but being fouled the moment he landed on the ground? This type of compelling evidence would have undoubtedly have clinched that extra 1.84% of the vote which was required for ‘the mark’ to be added to the rule-book. It also would have been an absolute cinch to find umpteen clips of players being prevented from taking a quick free. Video evidence could have proved that the ball being brought forward by 13m usually provides little or no reward.
At least the black card is a step in the right direction.
Once people who love the game start seeing what happens when players aren’t automatically hauled to the ground, it will be easier to convince Congress of the need for more rules which punish cynicism.
Furthermore, anyone who thinks Tyrone manager Mickey Harte ‘lost’ the debate on Saturday is gravely mistaken.
Although Mickey opposed the introduction of the black card, the new rule is actually tailor-made for his team.
Think about it. The objective of the black card is to create a faster-flowing game where direct runners like Peter Harte can counter-attack without being dragged to the ground and where midfielders like Sean Cavanagh can create overlaps without being body-checked. As the man who introduced Total Football to the GAA, Harte has always picked footballers who can play and then put them in a position.
Consider the counter-attacking threat posed by a defence that includes the McMahon brothers, Dermot Carlin and Peter Harte.
Tyrone can only profit from a rule which is going to allow players in every sector of the field to break forward without being dragged down.
In the end, Mickey’s opinion on the black card wasn’t shared by 71 per cent of the delegates who attended this year’s Congress. Such is democracy.
But be under absolutely no illusions, last Saturday will prove to be a very good day for the manager of the Tyrone football team.
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