Moves towards a sin bin a step in right direction

Damian Stack - The week in sport

Eugene McGee.
Eugene McGee.

When the final vote came through the man was moved to tears. He sat at his desk, sunk his head into his hands and visibly welled up. That's the level of pressure he was under just to get this thing over the line.

He knew all too well what we all know. That change in the great GAA democracy comes slowly if at all. To change something as fundamental as what was proposed was a monumental achievement for Eugene McGee.

By devising - in concert with others - and proposing the introduction of the black card McGee had hoped to save football from itself. His intentions were wholly noble and in some ways the black card experiment has been a success.

Certain ills have been removed from the game - body checking isn't nearly as prevalent as it was just a handful of years ago - but the black card has been an unwieldy and somewhat imprecise instrument.

In some ways it's far too harsh. It hardly seems fair that a player's game can be over for an offence often times no worse - and a lot of times not as bad - as what will earn a yellow card.

In others it's far too lenient. For something designed to ward off cynicism it's created its own form of it. Players are encouraged to take one for the team in certain situations and the punishment for the team is negligible when the player sent off can be replaced.

(As an aside the black card - and the accompanying increase of the number of substitutions from five to six - has helped to exacerbate the gap between the haves and the have nots. The stronger the squad of players you have, like say Dublin, the less of a punishment the black card is.)

Then you've got the endless debate over what is and what isn't a black card offence. Some of that is down to the ignorance of the observer - how many times do you hear a call for a black card for a foul that's nowhere near? - but some of it is down to a more legitimate confusion as to interpretation.

Where there's any question as to the intent of the perpetrator - it's a black card for a deliberate trip for instance - it becomes a really difficult, sometimes downright impossible, task for a referee to make the marginal calls.

The biggest knock against the black card is that it's essentially a half measure. It's what the committee who devised it thought stood the best chance of getting through Congress. Given a free hand and a blank sheet of paper what they would have opted for surely is the sin-bin.

The opposition to the sin-bin when it was trialled in 2005 and in 2008 was swift and quite ferocious. It never stood a chance, but now after five years of the black card and five years of dissatisfaction with it perhaps there's a chance.

The GAA's Playing Rules Committee has this week proposed trialling the sin-bin as well as several other tweaks to improve the spectacle starting in the 2019 National Football League.

We really do hope the GAA has the guts to follow though on this. Gaelic football - and hurling too for that matter - is a game crying out for a sin-bin. On its own it wouldn't cure the game of all its ills, but it would help to clean the game up significantly.

There has to be a meaningful deterrent and punishment for cynical and foul play. Undoubtedly there will be a lot of opposition from managers to this - a lot of managers seem to be reflexively against change - but the officialdom has to be strong enough to disregard knee-jerk criticism.

All the said the actual proposal for the sin-bin leaves a hell of a lot to be desired. The Playing Rules Committee proposes the retention of the black card, albeit that a black card would now mean a player spends ten minutes in the bin.

It also proposes that a player would have to pick up two yellow cards before ending up in the sin-bin and a third yellow card after they've come back on before being red-carded.

So in response to worries about discipline in the game, the GAA's Playing Rules Committee has in effect given players even more license to foul. It doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense and God help the poor referees who will have to police all of this.

The goal of a sin-bin should be to make referees' lives a hell of a lot easier. Instead of this convoluted, wrong-headed and frankly bizarre proposal the Rules Committee should propose ditching the black card, making what were once black card offences yellow card offences - punishable by a period in the bin - thereby cutting down on the number of marginal calls a referee has to make.

The hope must be that this proposal can be reworked into something more sensible. As it stands we're not quite sure what it achieves, but at least it shows the GAA's thinking is evolving in the right direction.

This isn't the right solution, nowhere near it, but just as the black card itself wasn't the solution, it might be a stepping stone along the way to where we want to get.