Martin Breheny: Five words to end cheating in the GAA
Amend 'yellow' to 'red' in rule on feigning injury and add: 'retrospective action may apply'
At the risk of being flattened by the over-crowded bus speeding towards Self-Righteous Central, here's my line: I have a degree of sympathy for Tiernan McCann.
That's altogether different from condoning his theatrical collapse to the ground after Darren Hughes merely tousled his hair late on in the Tyrone-Monaghan game last Saturday.
No equivocation; McCann's dramatics were wrong and showed absolutely no respect for another player.
It drew red card wrath on Hughes, upgrading the disappointment of an inter-county season that was about to end anyway.
Suddenly, it had finished on the sourest of notes, which wasn't what Hughes deserved after his substantial contribution to Monaghan's successful Ulster championship adventure.
Meanwhile, McCann's actions hoisted him to the top of the fake-hate charts. Fingers and thumbs trembled with outrage as they bombarded cyber-space with the furious opinions of their owners.
The amount of venom pumped at him could not have been any higher if he had grabbed one of the pigeons, which were on the pitch for much of the game, yanked its head off and booted the body into the crowd.
That's where perspective and reasoned judgement, both increasingly rare entities in all walks of life nowadays, come in.
If McCann had committed a serious foul, which injured Hughes, it would have been regarded as a risk of the trade, largely irrespective of the circumstances.
His unsporting behaviour brought red on Hughes, who may well have been about to exit anyway on a black card for a foul on Colm Cavanagh, but it did no personal damage.
Of course, that doesn't make it acceptable but neither should it lead to McCann's demonisation in the manner that has been on-going since Saturday.
Here's why. Cheating has been on the increase for a long time in Gaelic football, which, sadly, appears to be far more influenced by soccer's more cowardly excesses than rugby, where a player would be scandalised for faking injury.
It's the same in hurling, where trying to get an opponent into trouble by cheating rarely happens.
McCanan was only 11 years old when Tyrone won the All-Irelnd final for the first time in 2003 in a closely-contested final, where one of the decisive moments centred on the dismissal of Armagh's Diarmaid Marsden 15 minutes from the end.
He was sent off for a 'foul' on Philip Jordan who, it must be said, went to ground - in a manner which was out of line with his sturdiness and durability before or after - after running into Marsden.
Armagh were incensed, believing that the referee had been conned into sending off Marsden, who was later suspended. Armagh continued to fight the case and were vindicated when Central Council overturned the suspension.
Joe Kernan still believes that Marsden's absence for the final 15 minutes cost Armagh the game, which may well indeed have been the case.
It wasn't much consolation for Armagh - or Marsden, who was keen to have his name cleared - that the GAA's second highest authority later conceded that he had indeed been sent off in the wrong.
It's easy to put Tyrone under the spotlight for alleged 'cheating' offences, but there have other high-profile examples too of players going to ground as if shot by a sniper when the reality was altogether different.
Kerry's Aidan O'Mahony took an unusually long time to fall after taking a flick to the face from Donncha O'Connor in the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final. O'Connor was out of order, but the severity of the sanction was probably influenced by O'Mahony's delayed reaction.
O'Connor served no ban after the case was reviewed by the GAA's disciplinary authorities.
Cork's Michael Shields fell over clutching his head after the merest touch in this year's drawn Munster final against Kerry.
The trend towards feigning injury has been on the increase so it's hardly surprising that as a new generation of players emerge, they will see it as part of the game. It's a context which needs to be considered before portraying McCann as a lone wolf maverick, who has single-handedly introduced a destructive virus to the game.
He would not have behaved as he did if he feared being dismissed and missing the next game.
That why a mere five-word change in the rules could eradicate injury-faking, overnight.
As things stand, a referee can yellow-card a player for feigning injury. Amend that to red and the deterrent value increases substantially.
However, since referees have to be very careful in making immediate judgements on whether a player is injured, they are understandably cautious about acting on cheating, since they can't always be sure.
That's where the other four words come in.
Add "retrospective action may apply" to the rule and it will immediately wipe out cheating, since players would know that they could be banned after a video review.
If McCann feared missing the All-Ireland semi-final, arising from his spectacular collapse, would he have acted as he did last Saturday? Of course not.
Technically, a player could be charged with 'discrediting the Association' by diving but it's a cumbersome way of dealing with it.
There's a far greater logic in toughening up the actual rule, spelling it out clearly that cheating is a red card offence and that even if a player escapes sanction during the game, he may be sanctioned retrospectively.
It's neat and simple. Best of all, it's guaranteed to work.