Fear of picking up a black card has defenders running scared, according to four inter-county managers.
Cork’s Brian Cuthbert, Westmeath’s Paul Bealin, Cavan boss Terry Hyland and Roscommon manager John Evans are in unanimous agreement that the record high scoring from last weekend’s opening round of games in the Allianz football league is largely attributable to the “tentative” and “cautious” approach of defences, inhibited by the dread of receiving a black card.
James Horan, in the aftermath of Mayo’s league defeat to Kildare on Sunday, said players are afraid to tackle because of the uncertainty of the black card, a sentiment shared by Cork boss Brian Cuthbert.
Not one black card was issued by referee Pádraig O’Sullivan during Cork’s win over Westmeath and Cuthbert said the reluctance of defenders to over commit was evident.
“Defenders are now slow to make any type of a challenge in case they are in danger of bringing a player to the ground,” he noted.
“Certainly you would be thinking the high scoring last weekend is attributed to the black card, but to make that 100% certain you need to let it go another three or four more weeks to see is there a marked difference in the scoring, not just from one weekend of league games.
“I think defenders are a bit more cautious though, they are afraid to tackle.”
The opening round of league games in 2013 yielded 29 goals and 373 points, considerably less than the 37 goals and 410 points registered across the 16 league games last Saturday and Sunday.
Only one black card was shown in the four Division 2 games and the scoring here was noticeably higher than in 2013. 12-112 was registered in 2014, compared with the 7-103 tallied in the first February weekend equivalent last year, a difference of 24 points.
Cuthbert, along with Westmeath boss Bealin, believe the black card rule promotes a more attacking, free-flowing approach, leading to the increased scoring witnessed over the weekend.
“If a player is now one-on-one with a defender they are more inclined to take him on arising from the tentativeness on the part of the defender and that lends itself to more scores,” insisted Cuthbert.
“Teams are afraid to put 10 and 11 players behind the ball in defence because eventually one will over commit and be punished with a black card,” added Bealin.
“If you have a blanket defence and every player is going gung-ho to stop the forward, eventually one will get pulled and be black-carded. It is inevitable.
“Donegal mastered the defensive system and now Dublin have mastered the attacking system. The black card encourages the latter, it is to a forward’s advantage and that is a good thing for the game of football.”
Cavan manager Terry Hyland saw three Fermanagh players black-carded during their Division 3 encounter and said the new ruling is exposing inter-county players who haven’t been coached properly.
“There is a fear of bad tackling, of lazing fouling. In the past defenders would lunge in and while a free might be awarded against them, there was a never a danger of being sent to the line. That danger is now there.
“If players are afraid to tackle it goes back to coaching. Either they haven’t been coached how to actually tackle properly or the current coaching methods aren’t showing them how to tackle correctly.”
Roscommon’s John Evans, though accepting that defences are wary to adopt an aggressive approach amid black card concerns, is adamant that last weekend’s high scoring rates will not continue.
“We will get back to close to normal following the first two rounds. I think the percentage of cynical fouls, which was quite low in my opinion last year, will allow for a fractional increase in the scoring stakes during the league, but not what we saw last weekend.”
Added Cuthbert: “I think defenders need time to adapt. Even from a referees point of view it will take a couple of week to get comfortable with it.
“To get better at tackling is a key priority on the training pitch and for defenders to be more sure what is deemed a black card and what is not.
“It is important for players to discern how far they can go in the tackle because that is the nature of game.”
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