Black card potent weapon in fight against cynicism
THE black card... remember it? In my innocence, I was trying to forget it myself once the 71pc of GAA Congress delegates in Derry last March voted to implement it from January 2014.
But then came the Sean Cavanagh rugby-style tackle on Conor McManus and all hell broke loose in the stadium, in the media and with rank and file football supporters.
Naturally, Monaghan supporters – and it seems many neutrals – were demanding further sanction for such offences other than a free and yellow card.
But that demand for instant justice, depending on the particular situation, is not sustainable – which is why the black card is being brought in to provide uniformity in enforcing rule-breaking of this cynical type.
So, to spell it out once again, the FRC decided to designate five types of foul, generally described as cynical because it is the intention of the fouler to deliberately stop the play, that would be punishable with a black card.
That word deliberate is enshrined in the new rule because of course there can be fouls like those listed which are genuinely accidental – not many, but some.
The five fouls are: to pull down an opponent; to trip an opponent by hand or foot; to bodily collide with an opponent in order to take him out of the play (otherwise known as a third-man tackle); to remonstrate aggressively with a match official; to verbally abuse a player. The penalty for any of these offences is being sent off via a black card, with a replacement being allowed.
But there are restrictions, notably that if a team has conceded three black cards, a player who commits any further black card offence will be sent off but will not be replaced.
So if a team had four sent off for black cards, they would end up with 14 players and would only have three subs available for the rest of the game as the number of subs is to be increased from five to six in 2013.
The black cards will apply from January 1, 2014 in all football games run by the GAA. There will be no trial period and this rule cannot be changed except by a two-thirds majority at a future Congress.
So the inevitable whinging by some managers and players is a waste of time.
Some people have said that the black-card penalty in the closing stages of a game is no real punishment. Well, tell that to Monaghan. Cavanagh's yellow card was issued in the 49th minute and the subsequent free closed the gap to one point, 0-11 to 0-10.
In the final 20 minutes, Tyrone closed out the game to win by two points, with the final and crucial score kicked by Cavanagh.
Now supposing, under the new regime, it was a black card instead of a yellow Cavanagh got. He would have been sent off, with a replacement coming on.
But at that point Tyrone were hanging on for dear life and Cavanagh was the best player on the field by a mile.
Already Martin Penrose had been sent off and Joe McMahon was off injured while, five minutes after the Cavanagh incident, Stephen O'Neill was withdrawn.
With 20 minutes to go, Sean Cavanagh was absolutely fundamental to the Tyrone team, so imagine if he had been sent off with 20 minutes to play? Black cards no punishment?
And by the way, Cavanagh has always been a strong proponent of the use of the black card, as he has often been the victim of cynical fouling.
Only after this incident are the majority of football people realising what the black cards will really mean.
Players and managers will simply have to change their ways to avoid incurring black cards.
These are the first steps in controlling, and eventually eliminating, blatant cynical play, which has been part and parcel of football with all county teams over the decades.
If further changes are required, I am sure the GAA will legislate for that at a future time.
* Eugene McGee is chairman of the Football Review Committee.