John Fogarty: Sin bin the great leveller

Less than two months in and the Dessie Farrell era is providing an array of firsts.

John Fogarty: Sin bin the great leveller

Less than two months in and the Dessie Farrell era is providing an array of firsts.

Saturday’s draw with Kerry saw Seán Bugler introduced no less than three times in the opening half as a blood substitute, for Niall Scully and James McCarthy.

Eric Lowndes will go down as the first player to be sin-binned in Croke Park since the rule was made permanent last October, just as Conor McHugh scored the first advanced mark at GAA HQ following its official adoption.

And when was the last time Dublin’s attack failed to score from play for 60 minutes?

We will hazard a guess and say the 2004 League game in Castlebar when two of their total of three points were frees and the solitary score from play coming from midfielder Darren Homan.

Fourteen days previous, it seemed like another unprecedented phenomenon took place when Farrell made no less than 23 substitutions in the O’Byrne Cup semi-final defeat to Longford.

Unlimited substitutes have been part of the pre-season competition going back to 2017 and the new Dublin manager needed no invitation to exercise it.

So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise following Saturday’s game that Farrell wholeheartedly supported the idea of rolling substitutes.

He actually wasn’t asked about them: he was quizzed about returning to a maximum of six substitutes after the sin bin prompted the number be reduced again to five.

Peter Keane had bemoaned it in light of losing Adrian Spillane and Brian Ó Beaglaoich to first-half injuries. But Farrell was more than happy to expand.

“I think just generally if you look at other sports, there’s a tendency to roll more and more subs on and off, and what that does is keep up the tempo of games really high and that’s what spectators and fans want to see.”

Farrell wasn’t saying too much different from Jim Gavin, who made no secret of the fact he would have preferred to make more than six substitutes, which was the limit for the entirety of his reign, with last year’s sin bin trial in the League being the only exception.

In International Rules, teams can make a maximum of 16 per quarter, so 64 overall. In Australian Rules, the number grows to 90 overall.

At the behest of the GAA, the International Rules’ interchanges were capped at 10 per quarter in 2010 but relaxed following a review of rules four years later.

Certainly, rolling substitutes is something that inter-county Gaelic football would be more comfortable with now but it’s not difficult to appreciate just who would benefit more from such a proposal.

With their ability to replace like for like and a depth of talent no other county can match not yet at least, Dublin would stand to be boosted most from such an arrangement.

Kerry, Mayo, Tyrone, Donegal, Galway, and possibly Monaghan wouldn’t be hurt too much by it either but beyond that the division of wealth would be underlined, bolded, and italicised by interchanges.

The counter-argument is a team’s momentum might be interrupted by a multitude of personnel changes.

As Gavin said back in 2016: “I wouldn’t agree that it’s the strength of your panel; it’s about how you use your players, really.”

But could anyone see Dublin not getting interchanges down to a fine art?

The sin bin has, at the very least, restored a semblance of fairness by restricting the number of substitutes to five once more.

A black card equating to an automatic substitution as was the case between 2013 and ‘19 was not the same for Dublin or Kerry as it was Antrim or Wexford.

However, on Saturday Lowndes could not be replaced by someone like Cillian O’Shea nor Graham O’Sullivan by a fellow defender such as Pa Kilkenny.

Dublin's Aaron Byrne and Michael Burns of Kerry. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane
Dublin's Aaron Byrne and Michael Burns of Kerry. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

By putting more emphasis on the team than the panel, the proverbial playing field has been made a tad more even by the sin bin.

It goes without saying there are flaws in the new rule.

It is open to time-wasting, as much as the referees’ body have tried to combat the issue of the continuous clock by giving match officials the discretion of freezing it for excessive stoppages.

That a sin bin carries, like a yellow card, into extra-time and a red card doesn’t in the sense of team numbers, is also a glaring anomaly.

In that sense, it does not make cynical play less rewarding, which you would reason should be its primary objective.

However, the sin bin will go some way to making it feel like every team is playing by the same rules.

Don’t be surprised if there are cynical attempts to get around the limitations put on replacements — the widely abused blood sub comes to mind — but the sin bin in the main is already appearing to be a restorative addition to Gaelic football.

College and county drift further apart

And just like that, the Sigerson Cup will conclude tomorrow evening. Blink and you might have missed it.

Coming behind it is the conclusion of the Fitzgibbon Cup on February 12 but not before the quarter-finals over the next two days send inter-county managers into a tizzy about who they can and can’t play this weekend.

Kieran Kingston and Liam Sheedy, who share a sideline in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday, will be hoping players they have involved in the quarter-finals will come through them unscathed.

Both are acutely aware of the player welfare issue with Kingston appreciating “three games in six days, that’s quite a lot, especially at this time of year in these conditions”.

And Kingston has a lot more to consider, bearing in mind UCC will be looking to his son Shane, Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon, and Niall O’Leary who all started in Walsh Park on Sunday.

The irony in all of this is the Allianz League structure was changed to make it more developmental therefore allowing managers the scope to trial players.

Against Westmeath, you would imagine Liam Cahill might want to rest Calum Lyons and Jack Prendergast who have been busy enough with WIT apart from facing Cork two days ago.

But shouldn’t it be youth that is getting its head right now?

Kilkenny’s win over Dublin at the weekend was Tommy Walsh’s third game in eight days.

He didn’t come on until the 57th minute but it was quite the load before that, Tullaroan’s All-Ireland intermediate final last Saturday week and WIT’s final group game against Mary Immaculate College.

Like the Sigerson, the Fitzgibbon Cup and the inter-county game might have once gone hand-in-hand but the interests of the players’ respective teams don’t look so complementary anymore.

Three takeaways from opening league weekend

The advanced mark had quite the soft launch this past weekend but then the players seemed to be giving the referees as much benefit of the doubt as the men in black were offering them.

Players were continuing to play on despite raising their hand and the note in the Dublin-Kerry match programme claiming players could immediately be tackled inside the large rectangle irrespective of being awarded a mark only added to the confusion.

Looking at the line-ups alone, and it seemed Kilkenny were there for the taking on Sunday.

Dublin may not have had much training done but then the Cats had been on holiday until recently.

Without their Ballyhale Shamrocks men, Pádraig Walsh, Cillian Buckley, Conor Browne, Paul Murphy, and suspended Richie Hogan and having had to do without Richie Leahy for a large portion of the game, Kilkenny were still able to dismiss Dublin with ease.

Limerick and Galway have obvious reasons to be sharp this year but Kilkenny’s hurt from last year can’t be underestimated.

Galway shouldn’t have any fear of travelling to Tralee this Saturday night when up to the last two years Kerry’s home record at the outset of the League was dreadful.

Before 2018 when they beat Donegal by a point in Killarney and followed it up with another against Tyrone again in Fitzgerald Stadium last year, Kerry lost their opening home game for eight straight seasons.

In fact, they haven’t won a second round game at home since beating Tyrone in Tralee in 2008.

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