Colm Keys: Sharp rise in black cards over three-year period
Published 20/04/2016 | 02:30
The number of black cards shown in regulation football League games has jumped by 50pc in just two seasons.
From 90 in 2014, the year of its introduction, across seven rounds in all four divisions to 104 last year, the figures have spiked to 134 in the 2016 campaign.
The uniformity of the league is the most accurate way to draw such comparisons and it's the first time in three years that the average has jumped above one per match.
A combination of better understanding and more willingness to enforce on the part of referees allied to players and teams being less conscious of their actions during games can be attributed to the rise.
But the expressed hope at the time of its introduction that it would lead to a steady erosion of cynical play, the reason it was introduced at the 2013 Congress, has not materialised as detection rates rise.
The most common offence of the five that fall into black card territory is the pull-down, with 54 such offences in the 116 regulation games.
There were 42 trips deemed worthy of showing a black card while hopes that 'third man tackles' would become a thing of the past with the introduction - there was evidence of this in the first season - have dimmed somewhat with 33 body collides.
On a positive note the number of straight red cards dropped from 17 in 2015 to just nine this season.
For the second successive year Division 1 are market leaders when it comes to distribution of black cards. This year there were 38, more than double the 17 registered in the 28 2014 league games.
It has left 20 players facing one-match bans going into the Championship if they pick up a third of the suite of cumulative combinations (black card, double yellow, yellow/black).
Armagh and Longford are in the most perilous positions with three players each - Armagh's Aidan Forker, Ethan Rafferty and Colm Watters and Longford's Brian Kavanagh, Diarmuid Masterson and Robert Smyth.
Double blacks for Kerry's Shane Enright and Peter Crowley have pushed them closer to suspension, while Dublin's Jonny Cooper is also on edge, having picked up a black and double yellow.
Roscommon's Cathal Cregg and Donegal's Neil McGee have twice walked because of black cards over the seven-match programme, leaving them just one away from sitting out a game.
Over the three years Down are out in front for the number of black cards with 19 accumulated. But Kerry have clocked up 16 over the same period and are joint-second with Sligo, a figure that gives oxygen to the common belief that they can be among the most cynical teams when they have to be.
Dublin avoided black card sanction in the 2014 League, received two in 2015 but that has jumped again to five this season, a reflection perhaps of the different approach taken since their 2014 Championship exit.
Add in double-yellows and they lost eight players at various stages of games during the League, two less than Donegal whose disciplinary figures were compounded by a straight red for Leo McLoone against Kerry and double-yellows for Michael Murphy and Odhran MacNiallais.
Among the least 'cynical' teams are Monaghan, who picked up just one in this campaign and six overall in the 21-game period analysed. Dessie Mone and Neil McAdam picked up double-yellows but among frontline teams their statistics are the lowest.
Tyrone's record is also very good on this front. Sean Cavanagh's pull-down of Conor McManus in their 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final is often sourced as the most identifiable black card offence but in League football the Red Hand have accumulated just eight black cards from 2014-16.
Mickey Harte's side also fare well on the 2016 yellow card table, picking up 14 (the third lowest figure above Cavan and Clare), to reflect a good disciplinary record at this time of year.
With 28 each Offaly and Wicklow received the highest number of yellow cards. Donegal were the highest yellow card recipients of the eight Division 1 teams with 25 while Kerry had 22. With 16, Dublin and Cork were the lowest in the top flight.