Players need time to 'get' new rules
IT MAY have been black card weekend on the G.A.A. front, but it was the lack of the card that was the talking point in O'Kennedy Park, New Ross.
When Wexford and Laois met in the opening round of the O'Byrne Cup Senior football tournament on Sunday afternoon last, the supporters huddled in the stand did not know what to expect from Wicklow referee Anthony Nolan during the course of the 70 minutes.
In recent seasons there has been much hounding of referees, but in fairness, the men in the middle get more than 90% of their calls right. There may have been some controversial calls in the past, given the lack of rules to penalise professional fouls with nothing more than a yellow card. The introduction of the black card is to bring change and more consistency to penalising players involved in professional fouling, but there was little evidence of the difference in this 70 minutes of football.
The players, no doubt, were conscious of the consequences of receiving a black card, with little or no blatant fouls, but the free tally over the duration of the game was in no way minimised. The referee was seen to penalise back chat from players on a regular basis, but just one black card was brandished, to Wexford's Ciarán Lyng.
But the game gave every coach and player an insight into what to expect and the difficulties referees will have in implementing the rules. It's an unenviable job for a referee but one can expect a real change when the tempo of the game is stepped up for next month's National League, and particularly the championship.
Observing the game, one could see the frustrations of players. The man-to-man challenge was non-existent with players holding back in the tackle, no doubt not knowing what to expect under the new guidelines. This will, more than likely, change with each passing game as players become more accustomed to the rules and how far they can bring a referee with them.
But the players will discount the new rules at their peril. This game, along with two more this week, are just part of the learning curve, not just for players but also referees. The trouble is that players will find it difficult to alter their approach to the game come the tension-packed league clashes.
Unfortunately, a black card, even allowing for a subsitution, could alter the trend of a game. This is what managers will be preaching to players as they step up their coaching on the implementation of the tackle, while at the same time cutting out unnecessary fouling.
Nolan refereed this game well. There are good referees around but when it comes to championship time, the standard of refereeing will be even higher, as the men to take charge will be selected from a reduced panel.
Players will have to realise that referees are human too. Mistakes will be made, many legitimate tackles will be penalised, but the real challenge is for players to respect decisions, as even the slightest hint of dissent could lead to a team gaining those extra vital 20 metres, bringing an outfield free to within scoring distance.
Referees have a difficult job. And they need all the help they can get in order to get things right. Now it's up to the players to take the new rules on board. Football has improved immensely in recent seasons. The new rules if observed by players can bring the game to an even higher level.
There may have been an uneasy few months on the Wexford G.A.A. scene. Now is the time of year to stop looking back, and instead having a positive attitude and build towards a successful 2014. It would look as if Wexford G.A.A. is at war with itself. Decisions have been taken though, many believe in the best interests of the Association, and now is the time to look forward.
Already inter-county teams are preparing and laying plans for the season ahead. The Senior footballers got the season off to a winning start so let's continue this positive opening. Wexford have made rapid progress on its financial woes, and now is an opportunity to step up to the mark on the playing fields.
Wexford need vibrant inter-county teams. Wexford also need vibrant clubs. Working together we will achieve those goals. Best of luck to all inter-county teams and clubs for 2014.