Saturday 17 March 2018

Black card having effect

Overall response to football changes has been positive

In total, 95 black cards were brandished in the Allianz Football League this season
In total, 95 black cards were brandished in the Allianz Football League this season
Referee Eamonn O'Grady shows the black card to Roscommon's Neill Collins, right
Marie Crowe

Marie Crowe

When Kevin McManamon was given a yellow card last April against Tyrone in the Allianz League his first reaction was one of relief. He'd heard someone from the crowd shout "that's a black card ref" and he was worried.

But referee Marty Duffy deemed his tackle to be dangerous, and not one of the three black card offences – the pull-down, the deliberate trip or the deliberate body collide – and for players who are committing their first offence of the game that is a good thing. They get to stay on the pitch but just have to me more careful, it's a sharp reminder and a cheap lesson.

Dublin didn't receive any black cards in the league. They and Westmeath were the only two counties not to be sanctioned under the new rules. While Westmeath's campaign in Division 1 ended without a win, and relegation, Dublin finished theirs as champions, annihilating Derry in the final last week. However, not all of their opponents folded so easily, making it hard to understand how they went through the entire league without committing even one black card offence.

According to the Dublin camp, it was because they worked hard at playing the game as per the rule book and because they received a lot of briefings from officials.

In total, 95 black cards were brandished in the Allianz Football League with the majority of counties falling foul on more than one occasion. Overall, the implementation of the rules has been well received. Of course, there have been criticisms and concerns expressed about incidents in games but that was to be expected, especially in the early days.

Most recently these concerns came from the Donegal manager Jim McGuinness, who claims the lines between the black and yellow cards have been blurred. "We've had situations during the league where there was definitely black cards and they weren't given," explained McGuinness. "We've had other situations where it was supposed to be for a deliberate trip, a third-man tackle or a pull-down – I don't think a lot of the fouls are falling into them categories."

And Monaghan manger Malachy O'Rourke shares these worries; he feels there is an inconsistency in the application of the rules. In the Division 2 final last Sunday, there were three players black-carded, Monaghan pair Colin Walshe and Darren Hughes along with Donegal's Colm McFadden.

But there have been plenty of positives, especially for spectators. The new rules are being credited for the many goal-fests we saw over the last few months. Just last Tuesday in the Munster minor football championship between Clare and Waterford the teams scored ten goals between them. Ten goals in a championship game is a rare occurrence but is now more likely to be repeated as players become accustomed to free-flowing and open play.

For the referees, it's worked well too; on top of not having to deal with abuse from players, the game has flowed better and the players have adapted to the new rules quickly.

"The players are training with the new rules week after week and they are playing games with them too," explains referee Rory Hickey. "They know what they can and can't do. They understand them. It's the public who seem to be finding the changes hard to grasp because they aren't playing the game regularly like the players.

"Like the advantage rule, the players get it and when it comes into play during a game they welcome the free that they get. It's easier for the players to understand it when they are out there on the pitch going through the motions of it."

Undeniably it took the referees time to get used to applying the rules and they are not unaware of their failings. There have been instances where mistakes have been made like during the Dublin-Tyrone game that McManamon received his yellow card in. Dublin accidentally brought on David Byrne for Rory O'Carroll after he was sent off for a second yellow.

Dublin believed that their full-back was sent off for a black-card offence but the mistake was spotted and Byrne was only on the pitch briefly.

Trying to decipher between what is accidental and what is intentional can be difficult but in championship it will get easier for the referees and they expect most of the inconsistencies will be eradicated.

"Pat McEnaney wants the calls to be right and has told us to take an extra bit of time to get it right. He wants us to consult with the other officials if needs be so that mistakes aren't made.

"For the majority of the games in Championship, there will be two linesmen, four umpires and a fourth official. They will all be miked up. That's four different views at least.''

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