A long weekend of motions and emotions
Friends I have in the media sometimes tell me I should be a bit more emotional at times, but they got a rude awakening at The Venue in Derry City at about 1.35 on Saturday afternoon. That was the moment when the large screen giving the result of the vote on what was known for months as the black card flashed up in lights and there in green was the startling figure 71.8.
I and the other members of the Football Review Committee (FRC) were of course emotional at that moment, because we were after spending a vast amount of time and energy going around Ireland to seek out the information that allowed us to produce the 21 motions placed before around 330 Congress delegates. Sport is all about emotion and what was happening on Saturday was seen among the vast majority of Gaelic football people as crucial to the future development of the great game that we all have inherited.
In particular we were delighted that the voice of GAA people had spoken through the FRC. Around 4,000 from all parts of the world contacted the FRC on this subject and it is amazing that, with a couple of exceptions, the motions that were passed mirrored closely the answers on these topics provided by the 3,190 people, including 965 players, who answered the FRC email survey. Truly, the voice of the common man or woman involved with football has spoken.
Getting two-thirds majority for any major decision in the GAA is extremely difficult so we in the FRC were delighted that the margin in favour of our proposed reforms of the game were so decisively agreed to by delegates from all 32 counties and representatives of over 100 GAA units from the four corners of the world.
Nobody does controversy like the GAA when major issues are at stake and the black card certainly did that. In the main, there was support for the proposals announced on December 10 last but, of course, there were a small number of opponents who were stringent in their opposition. They got their answer on Saturday.
As I said many times, the FRC proposals were never earth-shattering, rather they were straightforward decisions aimed at stopping nasty tendencies that have crept into football since the start of this century. In particular, the rationale behind certain forms of fouling was destructive to the very core of football and the skill base on which the game is founded.
Deliberately pulling down an opponent because he has beaten you fair and square through skill is meant to disrupt and destroy skill. For some teams – club and county – this had come to be a tactical device incorporated in team preparation. To deny that is simply untrue.
The notion that famous, talented footballers of their own volition persistently drag down opponents deliberately is spurious or else naive in the extreme. At the start of the debate in Derry, the delegates were shown a selection of these cynical fouls and that was the start of alerting delegates to the reality of this destructive play. The subsequent debate, carefully co-ordinated and planned to spell out all the current flaws in the game, was decisive in the final result.
Calmly presented facts and viewpoints, no shouting, hysteria or jocose references, were all that was required to convince over 70pc of delegates that it was time to stop the rot. This was an amazing development at this Congress because late Friday night, I met scarcely anybody, even those in favour of the motions, who believed they would get the required 66pc of votes. Clearly many delegates changed their minds when the case for was spelled out in plain English without the dramatics.
There are several other improvements voted on as well, notably the arrival from January 2014 of a proper advantage rule that applies in other sports, notably rugby union.
I understand the tweeters were massaging their fingers ready for action as soon as the result was flashed up. Not surprisingly, these were mostly players who do not want change, presumably because they have been exponents of these dark arts up to now. Managers against the changes will probably be more cautious, bearing in mind that they are there to stay and a few of them have gone so far over the top already that they may decide that discretion is the better part of valour.
I understand why present day players and managers may be upset. They have been perfecting their game under the present system including cynical play. It is reasonable that some of them will not be happy to have to change their ways. But change they must, and will, because managers will be obliged to insist that players stop doing those fouls. The majority of players will have no worries because they already play by the spirit and the rules of football.
Finally, there was a lot of rubbish in recent weeks that teams with weak subs lists, or none, will suffer badly when the black card comes in next January. This argument is assuming that the present rate of cynical fouling will continue. It will not. I reckon by June 2014, black cards will be even less common than red cards and that is the objective of all the FRC's deliberations – to get rid of cynical fouling and give us a more free-flowing game with less frees.
Surely that is something to look forward to by players, mentors and above all spectators from 2014 on.