‘Facts on black cards don’t lie’ – McEnaney
Counties who pick up numerous black cards should take a close look at themselves, rather than assuming they are the victims of a disproportionate number of bad decisions.
That's according to former top football referee Pat McEnaney, who also believes that officials are coming nowhere close to the required levels of consistency in applying the rule.
"Perceptions are one thing, facts are another. If a county has a bad record with black cards, there has to be a reason. Sure, there are some wrong calls, but they spread out fairly evenly among counties so if you're getting more than others, you need to ask why," he said.
"Having said that, referees are not consistent enough. I'd say it stands around 50pc to 60pc, when it should be it over 90pc. Even some of our top referees aren't getting it right often enough."
He was reacting to figures in yesterday's Irish Independent, which detailed black card returns from all 32 counties since the rule was introduced at the start of 2014.
It showed Kerry leading the way on 25 cards in the Allianz League (the figures were based on the spring campaign, where most counties play the same number of games), followed by Down, Sligo and Longford on 22.
All-Ireland champions Dublin were near the bottom of the 'sinners' list with Tipperary on nine cards each, followed by Galway, Cork and Laois on eight and Westmeath on seven.
McEnaney, widely regarded as one of the best football referees ever, is adamant that the black card has served the game well, with the potential to achieve even more. However, he believes referees have "a road to travel" in the implementation of the rule.
"It was a bit embarrassing at times during last year's championship. The public could see black card offences either being ignored or called wrong. TV commentators were pointing it out all the time. It's not that hard to get right," said the Monaghan man.
He refers to the recent Dublin v Kerry league final as a good example of where the rule was applied well by Roscommon referee Paddy Neilan, who showed black cards to Jonathan Lyne, Diarmuid Connolly and Anthony Maher.
"There might have been one more that deserved a black card, but overall the referee did very well. That's what we need to see every week in the upcoming championship," said McEnaney.
However, he believes that Connolly was wrongly black carded against Monaghan the week before the league final, while Shane Carey escaped on a yellow card which merited black.
Paul Earley, a member of the Football Development Committee which recommended the introduction of the black card, reckons there has been more consistency this season than last year, but remains concerned about the long-term prospects because of the changes to the game.
"It has altered quite a bit over the last few years. The average time between the ball going dead and a kick-out used to be around 20 seconds, but it's less now. That puts the ball in play much quicker, and while that's to be welcomed, it can potentially lead to more fouling," said Earley.
"The passing and angles of running are getting more intricate too, which increases the likelihood of fouling. There also appears to be more tackles around the head and neck area, which makes it difficult for referees to decide whether a black or yellow card is called for.
"Players have a responsibility there. If they take a chance, they can hardly complain if a referee makes a call which TV might later show to be incorrect. We're talking borderline situations here."
Earley is convinced that the evolution of football has conclusively proven the case for having two referees.
"The dynamic of the modern game makes it impossible for one referee to get it right all the time. It's so fast, has so much movement and is played on such a big pitch that it's asking too much of one man to oversee everything in games that are now running to 75 minutes," he said.
"The argument that soccer and rugby do fine with one referee doesn't hold. Soccer is played on a much smaller pitch and has an offside rule, while the nature of rugby means that the referee is alongside the play nearly all the time."
Meanwhile, Tom Cribbin, whose Westmeath team have the best black card record in the country, said that they learned a lesson in the first year of its use after having a few players dismissed.
They invited Patrick Doherty, National Match Officials Manager in Croke Park, to brief them in detail on the black card rule and have had an excellent record since then.
"Black cards might have cost us a few games early on, so we became very focussed on avoiding them," said Cribbin.
"Counties with deeper panels than us might be able to withstand it better, but we certainly don't want to lose players for a silly foul. The lads have been very good at making sure it doesn't happen very often."