THOUGH the experimental rules were consigned to history at Congress, they remained the chief topic of conversation at yesterday’s National Football League press conference at Croke Park.
Cork boss Conor Counihan was in a minority of one flying the flag for the concept as his counterparts from Derry, Kerry and Monaghan lined up to express their relief that the proposal never saw the light of a championship day.
Derry manager Damien Cassidy was the more outspoken of the three and claimed the authorities were not prepared to support referees “through thick and thin”, whenever they made the hard calls.
Recalling that Antrim referee John Gough sent off three players from Dublin and one from Galway in the All-Ireland final of 1983, he remarked: “That finished his career.”
Monaghan boss McEnaney, brother of referee Pat, is adamant that difficulties result from inconsistent application of the rules.
He said: “There is a serious amount of championship matches played throughout the summer and the amount of incidents is in the minority, so let’s not get carried away with one or two (incidents) which happen.
“I think it’s time to move on from the experimental rules. We have talked long enough about them.”
Pointing out that 82% of players (in a GPA poll) voted against them, McEnaney added: “The goal for the GAA now should be consistency. We need to pick the best 15 refs in the country and have them refereeing every Sunday. We need to back them up with 15 more. We need to train them, coach them and do video analysis on a weekly basis.
“The rules we have are 100%, let’s get consistency with them.”
McEnaney complained that the experimental rules ran the risk of emasculating Gaelic football, an opinion shared by Kerry manager Jack O’Connor when he suggested that the GAA should first decide “what kind of a game they favoured”.
“Do they want fierce high-scoring, free-flowing games?” Kerry chief Jack O’Connor wondered.
“Rugby is very attractive at the moment and a lot of it comes from the physicality of it. I am not advocating foul play high up or low down, why should I with the players like the Gooch and those fellows!
“But, I think you have to retain a certain amount of physicality in Gaelic football because if you don’t, it will be much less a product.
“I know for a fact that our players who got ‘those yellow cards’ wouldn’t tackle for love nor money. We do stats on tackling and one of these fellows only got in one tackle in the following game — he was scared that if he went near a man, he’d get sent off.”
Cork manager Conor Counihan felt the need “to bring a bit of balance” to the debate.
“I thought there were good aspects to it and the fact that 63% (of delegates) voted in favour at Congress supports that argument. What’s happening now is the onus — unfairly — is going back to the referees. They are going to be ‘tried’ by the media again in terms of producing a red, which is a big call on a ref. It’s much easier to produce yellow. There were mistakes and poor implementation and we have to work on that, but for the whole lot to go out in one swoop was a bit dramatic when so many people wanted them in.”
O’Connor said he had been prepared to give the rules a fair crack but quickly lost faith in them after seeing three of his defenders yellow-carded in the game with Tyrone and several more sent off subsequently.
“At least five were sent off in the wrong. Micheal Quirke got sent off above in Derry. He just stood where he was, Joe Diver ran into him and your man (the referee) gave a yellow card. You also had the ludicrous situation where, for the throw-in for the second half against Westmeath, midfielder David Duffy ‘caught’ David Moran’s shoulder on the way down. They both fell to the ground and he got a yellow.”
In response to comments by Disciplinary Rules chairman Liam O’Neill that said managers had too much power, O’Connor pointed out that Kerry supported the changes. “That will tell you how much power I have,” he said.
Seamus McEnaney wasn’t impressed by O’Neill’s comments, saying: “I wasn’t quite sure if we were entitled to an opinion. Some people might have thought the new rules could possibly suit Monaghan better than most teams, but, where our games were going and what I was brought up with, I felt they were going to lose the physicality.
“Yes there were high-scoring games, but I know from my own defenders that they were afraid to put in any sort of crunching tackles in case they were only going to see maybe only a minute or two of a game. No supporter wants to pay €15 into a National League game to see Tommy Freeman for 30 seconds, or Brian McGuigan or of those type of players.”
Cassidy had an interesting take on the criticism of managers, suggesting they were irrelevant in this context. “They come on TV and cry and complain. Every manager is in the business of looking after his team and getting results. They don’t care how another team does or another referee does.
“Let’s not fool ourselves. All I am interested in is how my team gets on. If that means I can persuade or intimidate or knock somebody else aside to my advantage we’ll do it. Let’s not be naive, let’s live in the real world.”
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