Chance lost to try out proposed rule changes
TWO former All-Ireland-winning managers believe that the GAA is mistaken in not experimenting with the proposed changes to football's playing rules prior to voting on them.
John O'Mahony and Pete McGrath, who between them have 32 years senior inter-county managerial experience with Mayo, Galway, Leitrim and Down, believe that the decision not to trial the Football Review Committee's package of measures could reduce their chances of being accepted when they come before Congress in Derry in April.
In particular, they suspect it could be especially significant in the debate on the controversial 'black card' proposal to dismiss a player (replacement allowed) for any one of five specific offences," said O'Mahony, who led Galway to All-Ireland success in 1998-2001.
"It (black card) is a worthwhile attempt to do something about cynical fouling – certainly much better than sending off a player on a single yellow card offence.
"But I'd be concerned that it won't be experimented with before the vote takes place. People will be voting without having seen how the proposal works out in practice. That could come against it."
The FRC amended their original move to force the substitution of players who picked up one yellow card and are instead proposing the introduction of a new 'black card' disciplinary strand where players are sent off (and replaced) for deliberately pulling down, tripping or body-checking, using abusive language to an opponent or remonstrating with an official in an aggressive way.
"I'd agree with John that it would have been better if the proposed changes had been trialled. It would give people a chance to see how they work out in a game situation.
"I know where the committee are coming from with the proposals but my concern is that anything that makes the referee's job more difficult is fraught with danger.
"Are the fouls (black card) going to be so clear-cut that there won't be a doubt, even in the mind of the worst referee, as what's cynical intent and what's not?" said McGrath, who led Down to All-Ireland titles in 1991-94.
The Downman is concerned that referees will find it difficult to differentiate between yellow and black-card offences and that players could be sent off for making a genuine attempt to tackle.
"If a referee misinterprets it, mistakes will be made and players will be sent off when they shouldn't. If a player gets a black card after doing everything right, next time he won't tackle at all. That's not what we want," added McGrath.
O'Mahony believes that the black-card proposal has merit, but would prefer to see it in operation before having Congress vote on it.
"That could well have worked in its favour. There were times in the past when I would have been against various proposals when they were published, but came down in their favour when I saw them in use in games.
"The black card idea is an attempt to do something about cynical fouling, which is a good idea because there's far too much of it going on, so it would a pity if it lost support because people were asked to make a decision without seeing exactly how it worked in game situations.
"Maybe the reason it's not being trialled is because there's a fear that managers would kick up in pre-season and influence opinion," added the Mayo Fine Gael TD.
FRC proposals, which are accepted at Congress in April, will apply from January 1 next. Opinion is particularly divided on the back-card proposal with most of the opposition coming from Ulster.
However, new Dublin manager Jim Gavin, while generally supportive of the FRC plan, believes it doesn't go far enough. He would favour a sin-bin system where players were sent off (and not replaced) for 10 minutes for cynical fouling.
The FRC considered the sin-bin option, but decided against it on the basis that it would prove difficult to operate at club level.
"As one of the committee's primary objectives is to try to simplify rather than complicate the task of the referee, we have concerns about attempting to operate a 10-minute sin-bin at club level.
"It must be borne in mind that at many club games the referee is isolated, relying on the participating clubs to provide linesmen and umpires," concluded the FRC report.
If they are to be passed, each of the FRC proposals will require a two-thirds majority, but the committee remains confident that it can be achieved – in most cases, at least.
They will be encouraged by a vote at the 2009 Congress when broadly similar proposals on cynical fouling came within eight votes of being passed. It was carried on a 177-100 vote, failing by just two per cent to reach the required target.