GAA Congress delegates caused a surprise yesterday by backing black card proposals to confront cynical play in Gaelic football.
It was thought that the proposals drawn up by the Football Review Committee (FRC) would fail to win sufficient support, as they required a two-thirds majority. But a powerful final sales pitch from the floor proved decisive and after a tense wait the electronic voting system showed 70.82 per cent in favour.
The black card, which will take effect from January 1, 2014, had faced increasing opposition in recent days, with most Munster and Ulster counties revealing they were going to oppose the reforms. FRC chairman Eugene McGee, whose group had put in an exhaustive effort to glean a comprehensive feedback from all sections of GAA society, spoke of his relief after the outcome.
"The thoughts of failure were horrendous after the work we had put in," he said. "To win about 70 per cent of the vote is unbelievable. It will be a landmark decision because it will show the world that the Association is concerned about the quality of football. It will show we mean business."
The GAA president Liam O'Neill, who set up the FRC, had been in the Longford man's shoes four years ago when similar motions failed at Congress by just eight votes. He said yesterday's decision in Derry was "momentous". FRC member Paul Earley showed video clips of samples of the fouling they were trying to crack down on.
A new category of infractions will be added to the Official Guide to be classified as cynical behaviour and will be punished by a black card. Offences include deliberately pulling down an opponent, deliberately tripping an opponent by hand, leg or foot, deliberately colliding with an opponent after he has played the ball away to take him out of the play, threatening abusive or provocative language or gestures to an opponent or a team-mate, and remonstrating in an aggressive manner with a match official.
Only two speakers spoke out against the black card motions, one from Cork and one from Tyrone.
But they were overwhelmed by the wave of speakers in favour and with an estimated 100 voters undecided heading into yesterday it appears to have had a major bearing on the result.
The number of subs allowed will be increased to six to facilitate the rule change. The first three players sent off on a black card can be replaced.
The mark (with 65 per cent support), 30m penalty for delaying frees (54 per cent support) and clean pick-up (46 per cent) were defeated. A new advantage rule was introduced and the time clock also got approval.
And in a significant boost to the IRFU's plans to bid for the Rugby World Cup, in 2023 or 2027, delegates agreed to make Croke Park and other GAA stadia available, a decision welcomed last night by the Government.