Saturday 3 December 2016

Tomás Ó Sé: Time to show black card a straight red

Last weekend showed the interpretation of the rule is too varied to work

Published 23/07/2016 | 14:00

Mattie Donelly of Tyrone and Roscommon's Sean Mullooly receive black cards
Mattie Donelly of Tyrone and Roscommon's Sean Mullooly receive black cards

I pointed the car for Cork from RTE last weekend after another Sunday Game had been wrapped. I don't mind the driving at that time of night, the roads are empty and you can get stuff clear in your head.

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Your mind would wander to all sorts of places while bombing along the motorway. Usually, you'd be running over what you said on the show, the stuff you could have expressed a little clearer, or maybe something you wanted to get across that you didn't get the chance to.

But what stuck with me most last Sunday was that for the third night in a row that I was on the show, we had spent a fair amount of time talking about the black card.

And do you know what? I'm sick of it. Sick of seeing it, sick of talking about it, sick of analysing the incidents that, quite often, see games change on a referee's split-second interpretation.

You have to be fair about this. Paraic Duffy last week stressed that "human beings are refereeing games played by human beings and mistakes will be made".

He's right. Errors will be made. On all sides. But you have to try and minimise them all the same.

Now I can't say I've a fully thought-out alternative to the black card to offer you here. But last weekend was one of the worst I've seen from the point of view that it displayed the full spectrum of how the rule can be interpreted.

And it hit me that coming towards the conclusion of a third full season since the black card was introduced, no-one seems exactly sure when the card should be used and when it should be kept in the pocket.

Mattie Donnelly.jpg

Mattie Donnelly leaves the pitch last week

I mean, only Mattie Donnelly will know exactly what his intention was for his black when he ran into Eoin McHugh in the Ulster final. The Cathal McShane incident was just flat out wrong by my reading.

And the worst of the whole lot was James Kielt for Derry. Jesus, you have to be absolutely sure if you're going to send a player to the line. And that wasn't one of those cases. When Kielt was going off the field, he was properly angry. You can understand that.

But in other incidents, like the McShane one, you can see the player was genuinely mystified by what's going on. I don't think he knew what was coming at all. One card shouldn't be causing this much angst.

And the way the game is moving, I can only see things getting worse. It's a possession game now and that has knock-on effects. Teams know their work in contact and around the tackle is crucial so at least 30 minutes of every training session is taken up by that sort of stuff.

And the amount of contact in a game has increased three or four or five-fold. That's going to lead to more incidents and more frustrations around the black card.

Roscommon’s Sean Mullooly receives a black card from referee Ciaran Branagan in last Sunday’s Connacht SFC final replay. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Roscommon’s Sean Mullooly receives a black card from referee Ciaran Branagan in last Sunday’s Connacht SFC final replay. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Look, I'm all in favour of some sort of sanction for cynical play. The Colm Boyle card in the Mayo-Kildare was as black as you can get and there should be some sort of punishment for that.

And here's the other thing about the black. Boyle did exactly what he should have done there for his team. It's what I would have done. No doubt. There was a goal chance on for Kildare and he snuffed it out.

I think players are given a perverted kind of kudos for taking cards like that and having the football brain to see a serious attack developing and being selfless enough to take the black and make sure your side don't concede. And that's the exact opposite to what the rule was supposed to do.

It comes down to this. The theory behind the black card is solid but the application of the rule is well off. If you applied the letter of the law as it stands, you'd have black cards handed out every single game.

And leaving it up to referees to apply the spirit of the thing leaves you with hugely varying interpretations and frustrations for players and managers. Like we saw last weekend.

The one thing I'd say about the Donnelly incident is that David Coldrick had the b*lls to show a black card for it. Others might have gone for a yellow, which in some cases is just a cop-out for referees. Coldrick called it as he saw it and went for the black.

And I can tell you one thing, in a club game that would have been a yellow. I don't see many black cards in club games I play in with Nemo or matches I go to watch.

Refs at club level prefer to give the yellow card. It just draws less heat and that's human nature I suppose. There's a reluctance to show a black unless it's absolutely necessary. That mightn't be to everyone's taste but at least it's consistent.

I'll be honest here. I know from first-hand experience that refs are slow to dish them out in a club game and I've tried to use that reluctance in my favour. As you get on and the legs stop doing the things they used to, you rely more and more on the little pulls to see you through.

The worst thing about all of this is that there's loads of other things we could - and should - be talking about instead.

The big boys are getting closer to showing us their full hand. Dublin are cruising but might be without a third member of their All-Ireland winning defence if James McCarthy's injury is as serious as some are saying. How good are Kerry? Are Mayo finding their feet again in the back door?

Tyrone look ready to challenge the big boys after their last-gasp win over Donegal. After today's qualifiers in Cavan and Galway, it's Croke Park only for games. That's when you know you are getting into the really important stuff.

But this was just too important to let slip by without comment. And I plan to drop it after this. The black card has been a good idea that just hasn't worked out in practice. It's time to show it a red.

Irish Independent

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