Thursday 21 September 2017

Gaping fault lines in black card are now more obvious than ever

Keith Cribbin of Kildare leaves the field after being shown the black card by referee Derek O’Mahoney on Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile
Keith Cribbin of Kildare leaves the field after being shown the black card by referee Derek O’Mahoney on Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Statistics underline that the GAA's disciplinary system works quite well. From infraction to penalty and subsequent challenges the number of cases that don't see out the distance are relatively few.

In his annual report to Congress in 2016, the GAA's director-general Páraic Duffy reflected on the reaction to a number of high-profile cases that previous summer being overturned in the latter stages of the championship by providing figures over a five-year period that backed up a system that is robust and fair to the player.

From 2011 to 2015, he reported that the GAA's Central Competition Controls Committee had proposed 1132 penalties arising out of inter-county games and, from that, almost 90 per cent were accepted.

From the 146 that were challenged, 50 were overturned while from three cases that went to the Disputes Resolution Authority just one - Diarmuid Connolly - was successful and only by a majority, not a unanimous, decision.

Rescinded

Having 51 penalties rescinded at one stage or another in the process from 1146 works out at 4.45pc, very low by any standards and suggests that many of the decisions taken by referees or retrospectively by the CCCC have stood up.

More recent figures, from 2014 to 2016, suggest the 'sticking' rate for proposed penalties is at around 94pc or a 6pc fall off, slightly higher than the 2011-2015 figures presented.

The figures are interesting in the context of some of the challenges to cumulative suspensions that have cropped up in recent weeks.

Brendan Murphy picked up two yellow cards in the Dublin/Carlow Leinster quarter-final that gained notoriety for much different reasons but, having picked up two black cards in the league, it deemed him ineligible for their subsequent qualifier trip to London.

But Murphy and Carlow were able to establish that one of the yellow cards should not have been given and he was cleared to play.

Down's Kevin McKernan and Kildare's Kevin Feely picked up third black cards of the season in their respective provincial finals, deeming them ineligible for last weekend's qualifiers.

Suspensions for cumulative combinations of black/double yellow cards have been rare since the introduction of the black card four seasons ago.

Such was the flood of hearings requested for individual black cards in the first two years that the GAA felt the need to limit the facility to challenge, only when a suspension was pending.

Feely and McKernan both exercised that right and were successful, once again shining a strong light on the struggle for consistency that referees have in applying the four-year-old sanction.

At least two of the six black cards they were shown were proved not to have been justified. It's a small poll but still works out at a minimum of 33pc. As much as those that are given, but clearly shouldn't have been, has been frustrating, those that aren't given were equally perplexing over the weekend.

As Kildare goalkeeper Mark Donnellan returned from kicking a '45' at one end in Saturday's fourth-round qualifier with Armagh he spotted Andrew Murnin making a dash to make himself available for a quick kick-out. Donnellan checked his stride to make contact with Murnin.

That the ball was 'not in play' as some suggested was not relevant. Murnin's run constituted a "movement of play" and as it was clearly deliberate a black card should have ensued. Instead, referee Derek O'Mahony, who otherwise had a decent game, issued yellow after consultation with other officials.

The following day Joe McQuillan was right on cue to see Tadhg O'Rourke haul down Diarmuid O'Connor in the second All-Ireland quarter-final in what looked like a textbook black card, similar to Kildare's Keith Cribbin's the night before, but this time no card was issued.

In defence of referees, it is not always obvious as to whether a pull down, a trip or a body collision is deliberate so their judgment must be more subjective.

But the case history for the black card is becoming more skewed by the season.

Ciaran McKeever was a clear contender for black in Armagh's win over Tipperary two weeks ago but picked up yellow instead, surviving to play an important role in clearing Armagh lines in one of the next plays.

The black card was brought in for all the right reasons in 2013 and its work as a deterrent has helped in recalibrating the game to a more free-flowing product. But any audit of cards given and cards missed would surely throw up far too much disparity.

There are no obvious metrics for the rate of improvement but over the last three weeks, on the field and in the committee room, the fault lines have been clearer than ever.

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