Saturday 24 February 2018

Martin Breheny: Congress must grasp chance to end cynical fouls

THE choice facing delegates heading to the GAA Congress in Derry next weekend could not be simpler – if you think it's acceptable in Gaelic football for a player to deliberately pull down or trip an opponent, intentionally collide with him after he has played the ball so as to impede his run, to verbally abuse him during a game or to behave aggressively towards a match official, then vote 'no' to the Football Review Committee (FRC) proposal designed to increase the penalty for such offences.

Alternatively, if you regard those destructive practices as severely damaging to Gaelic football, vote 'yes' to send out a clear message that they won't be tolerated.

It's not as if the FRC has proposed draconian measures to discourage players from indulging in the above-mentioned offences.

Yes, the offender will be sent off for the remainder of the game, but a replacement (up to a maximum of three in the case of slow-learning squads) will be allowed, so a team won't be at a numerical disadvantage.

Personally, I would prefer the 'sin bin' sanction where an offender missed 10 minutes, with no replacement allowed.

However, the FRC opted against it on the basis that it would be difficult to implement at club level where, quite often, the referee is the only neutral official and has enough to contend with without timing how long players spend in the 'sin bin.'

Already, there's quite a volume of opposition to the FRC proposal which would see the introduction of a 'black card' to indicate that a player was being sent off for one of the cynical or abusive offences.

The argument is being put forward that the introduction of a third card offence – yellow and red will continue to apply for other fouls – will increase the pressure on referees, leading to more mistakes and more controversy.

Why so? Referees are already making dozens of decisions in every game, so the addition of one for an offence which is usually self-evident would hardly strain them.

Actually, it would make their job easier as, presumably, the fear of dismissal would result in fewer offences under the cynical/abusive heading.

There's also a contention that the existing rule, which allows for the issuing of a yellow card for that type of offence, is adequate. Really? What of the situation where a player is hauled to the ground with a rugby-style tackle just as he is about to enter the penalty zone?

It reduces a high-percentage goal chance to a point opportunity from the resultant free, while the perpetrator is yellow-carded.

The offender has stopped a likely goal, thus reducing the opposition's chances of winning, while also damaging the game as a spectacle – but at no personal or team cost.

In fact, as the rule stands, he can commit one deliberately destructive foul in every game right throughout the season without ever being sent off or banned.

The FRC have another proposal to introduce a ban for a player who picks up three yellow cards in a season, but I wouldn't fancy its chances of success after the opposition pack the debate with a shoal of red herrings, all claiming that it would be difficult to administer the cumulative system.

The committee have several proposed changes on the Congress agenda, but none is as fundamental to the core vision for Gaelic football as the attempt to eradicate cynical fouling.

They ignored another crucial area when deciding not to legislate for the handpass blight but since that was their decision, there's no point dwelling on it. Still, it was a lost opportunity.

Now, it seems that their attempt to legislate for deliberately destructive fouling could fail because of a lack of support at Congress. The FRC consulted widely across all strands in the Association before drafting their recommendations, so their proposals represent a large cross-section.

While that doesn't mean that every proposed amendment is unquestionably progressive, it certainly gives them a credibility which merits genuine consideration, as opposed to the view that it's just another set of suggestions from some committee or other.

And with predominantly hurling counties fearing that what happens in big-ball land today will extend to their world tomorrow, this is going to be one mighty hard sell for the FRC.

As if it wasn't tough enough, it will take a two-thirds majority to have any of their proposals passed. World leaders can be voted in on simple majority, but when it comes to deciding something as simple – and as logical – as changing the punishment for deliberately hauling down an opponent in Gaelic football, it requires a two-thirds majority to amend the existing rule.

I can't see it totting up too often by the banks of the Foyle on Saturday.

Irish Independent

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