There was no flurry of black cards in Tuam yesterday in a low key FBD clash, as Roscommon referee Paddy Neilan took a logical and common sense approach, to the introduction of the new rule changes for football.
Despite the horrid conditions, Neilan only brandished one black card to Sligo corner back Neil Ewing, for what appeared to be a deliberate pull down on a Galway player.
Apart from that one “deliberate foul”, it was business as usual with a handful of ticks and a few yellow cards.
Players made the conscious effort not to engage in any third man tackles and to avoid any deliberate tripping or pulling down in the tackle.
On a few occasions, it was easy to observe where guys put hands on the opposition player, and then subsequently released them as the opponent moved away.
Had they not done so, it would rightly have been construed as a deliberate pull-down.
Based on what was on show yesterday — and yes, we know — it is only the pre-season leagues, the new rules can help reduce cynical play in Gaelic football.
It will take time for people to get their head’s around the new sanctions. However, if the new rules do succeed in ridding the game of the incessant body checking of players on the overlap, deliberate pull backs, and ranting at referees, they will be a success.
Inter-county footballers are a very adaptable and intelligent group, and they will change their style of tackling and their behaviour on the field of play.
Managers too will engage in more defensive coaching and more emphasis will be put on the skill of tackling the ball, as opposed to the man.
I believe the rules should be given an opportunity to be a success, rather than people lining up to criticise them. The top players, especially defenders with pace and skills, will have little to fear with the new regulations.
There will be plenty of contentious decisions as the season progresses, where a referee black cards a player, and it will be difficult to know if the foul in question was deliberate. That will be up to the interpretation of individual referees and as they stakes get higher, those split- second decisions will be held up to greater scrutiny. However, nothing is perfect and human error is part of sport. Both for players, and the officials on duty.
While the new rules can easily be implemented and have good scope to be a success at inter-county level, their implementation at club level will be difficult.
Refereeing at club level is a tough job and these new rules will put many club referees to the pin of their collar to keep on top of the role.
Overall though, their first outing was a positive one, and I believe they have a considerable degree of merit. Hopefully, they will do exactly what they say on the tin, and make football a more attractive and free flowing game.
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