THE FOGARTY FORUM: Gavin is right: Black card is no substitute for the sin bin

As early as we are in the inter-county calendar, Jim Gavin is getting a lot right.

Having won the first four of what he hopes will be 15 games across League and Championship this year with one of them being played outside Croke Park, the bookmakers have every right to make them All-Ireland favourites.

But Gavin’s accuracy extends beyond the sideline. Earlier this month, he praised the Football Review Committee’s (FRC) work but emphasised their black card proposal was a second-rate alternative to the sin-bin rule.

More so, he suggested the idea of sending off and replacing a player found to have committed a black card offence was open to abuse by managers.

“Tactically, managers could use that to their advantage, putting in a B rate player, he gets a ticking (black card), off he comes and he’s replaced by the A rate player.

“The only way you’re going to hurt teams is getting guys off the field and we’ve seen that with other sporting organisations as well, the disadvantages of having some of your key men off the pitch at key moments in the game.”

Gavin is only a few months into the job but already he has shown himself to be his own man.

Much like his predecessor, Pat Gilroy, he stands aloof from the herd, neither pally or opposite to his managerial peers.

He also spoke of the sin bin being shot down by managers standing on their soapboxes in the Noughties as if they were another breed.

The truth is the sin-bin rule remains the best option to curb the excessive cynical play in Gaelic football.

The reason given for the black card being favoured over it is logistics.

On the surface, the idea of recruiting a fourth official to supervise the 10-minute binning at junior club level appears quite an ambitious one.

Yet is it any more aspirational than the prospect of cleaning up sidelines in club games when in many instances there is nowhere else to put management and backroom members?

Anyway, the black card proposal, as admirable as it is in principle, is ignorant of the issues many rural clubs find themselves in at present.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner in January, Valentia chairman John O’Sullivan spoke of the Kerry club’s struggles to field an adult team this year.

With only the bare minimum at their disposal, they couldn’t afford to lose any of their starting players to the black card rule.

“If we had one or two carded, we’d be left with no team,” said O’Sullivan. “It’s a big thing for Congress but are Croke Park in touch with reality at all?”

This column is loathe to come down hard on any measures designed to tackle cynical play but as county boards debate the black card proposal, can club representatives think anything other than it suiting bigger teams?

Part of their recommendation is to increase the number of substitutes permitted in Gaelic football from five to six so as to accommodate the black card eating into their allocation of injury and tactical replacements.

But when some clubs can’t send on six, never mind five, players then what is the point? Gavin’s concerns about the possibility of some teams starting games without their best players so as to garner some sort of physical advantage should also be heeded.

His cautionary words should also be taken in good faith as, given the resources he has, it’s not as if losing a starting player is going to hurt him as much as it would a Leitrim or a Waterford.

It was welcome to note that GAA president Liam O’Neill said the crusade against cynicism will not end should the vote on the black card fail to receive the required two-thirds majority support in Derry this Saturday week.

The sin bin idea both he and GAA director of games development Pat Daly devised and which was narrowly beaten in Congress four years ago was a major step in the right direction.

But, as Gavin rightly points out, replacing one player with another doesn’t go far enough in reflecting how much the GAA wants to kick cynicism out of Gaelic football.

Bringing back the sin bin and punishing not just players but their teams for unacceptable behaviour is the only way people will appreciate that it simply won’t be tolerated.

Kerry’s top sharpshooters can change the picture

The most engrossing pictures from the weekend’s action featured not players but managers.

In Thurles, there was Brian Cody and a Tipperary backroom team member exchanging words.

In Croke Park, Kieran McGeeney was snapped talking with sports psychologist Hugh Campbell, he of Armagh 2002 fame, after Kildare’s 13-point defeat to Dublin.

The picture of Eamonn Fitzmaurice and the Kerry management as they trudged off MacCumhaill Park said plenty about where their charges are at the moment.

All three men find themselves in tight spots, particularly Fitzmaurice, but neither have the clocks gone forward nor the azaleas reached full bloom in Augusta.

Waterford will feel Kilkenny’s wrath in Nowlan Park next week. McGeeney knows Jason Ryan has caused Dublin the most headaches in Leinster this past while and it’s June that will count most. Fitzmaurice simply must send in the forward cavalry.

In four games, his second-string attack has mustered just 1-10 from play. Cooper, Galvin, O’Sullivan — your county calls.

Time fans saw the big picture

Watching the Ireland-France game last Saturday, it struck home just how much opportunity the crowd and those watching at home get to praise good play.

A Rob Kearney kick bouncing before going into touch or penalty-winning work from an Irish forward in the ruck was applauded with gusto as their efforts ensued in a break in play and thus adequate reflection on what had just been achieved.

Really, it’s only after scores that GAA supporters are given the space to heap praise on players and even then those doing the scoring are of a limited number. With the GAA keen to maximise the match-day experience in Croke Park, running montages of defence-splitting passes, dispossessions, hooks and blocks on the two big screens would be a great way of educating supporters that there are more skills than just scoring in Gaelic games.


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