Saturday 24 March 2018

Martin Breheny: Eighteen reasons to show cynical play the black card

Westmeath’s Doran Harte is shown the red card during last weekend’s game against Louth – but 18 other players were shown yellow card
Westmeath’s Doran Harte is shown the red card during last weekend’s game against Louth – but 18 other players were shown yellow card

HARD cases make bad law, but when the system is under review anyway, there's no harm in tossing an extreme example into the mix.

Take last Sunday's Westmeath v Louth Division 2 football tie in Mullingar. It made an early bid to become the season's most carded game, with Dublin referee Gary McCormack reaching into his pocket 19 times.

He flashed 18 yellow cards and one red (Westmeath's Doran Harte) in a game where the hosts overturned a three-point interval deficit to win by one.

Now, when 19 of 37 players (seven subs came on) are deemed to have committed offences which draw cards, it suggests one of the following:

• There was a high degree of cynicism, carelessness or bad tackling technique in action.

• The referee was excessively card-happy.

• The rules are unmanageable.

• A combination of all three.

Whatever the answer, there's something wrong when more than half the players in any game, let alone an inter-county tie, are carded.

What makes Sunday's card-fest especially interesting is that while 18 players got single yellows, none picked up a second one which would have resulted in dismissal (Harte went on a straight red).

Over recent years, it has become increasingly common for players to get yellow cards on a systematic basis while ensuring that they don't get a second.

That way, all 14 outfield players – and the goalkeeper too if the occasion demanded – could be yellow-carded in every game without having any long-term consequences. It's cynicism in its worst form.

That will change if a Football Review Committee (FRC) proposal is accepted, whereby three single yellow cards in different games draw a suspension, but you can expect strong opposition at Congress on the ridiculous grounds that it would be difficult to implement.

Of course, the big FRC idea in this area is the introduction of 'black card' offences whereby a player who commits any one of five deliberately destructive fouls must be replaced.

Already, some big guns, including managers, are lining up against it, spuriously arguing that it would take the manliness out of Gaelic football.

That is pure rubbish, of course, but it wouldn't be the first time that propaganda was used to discredit a good idea.

The role of managers in deciding what's right and wrong for football and hurling has reached ridiculous levels.

Their high profiles make them the most-quoted individuals in every county, so when they oppose a particular proposal, its chances of being accepted greatly diminish.

In general, managers operate on the basis that a proposed rule change will militate against their team.

Now, quite how introducing a rule which punishes cynicism would go against any particular team might appear to be a mystery.

However, if cynicism is part of the game plan in the first place, then anything which curtails it does, indeed, affect those involved. So, next time you hear a manager complaining about the introduction of the 'black card', ask yourself this: is he objecting because it's not good for Gaelic football or because it will be bad for his team due to the way they play?

Criticism of referees is now a routine default setting for many managers, usually complaining about a lack of consistency.

They're right in their diagnosis since uniformity of rule application is pretty rare, but wrong in their response, because the criticisms almost invariably hinge on decisions which went against their team.

Clearly, those with a vested interest see things from their own viewpoint – hence their opinion on the referee is completely self-serving.

What's more difficult to understand is why those who recruit, train and monitor referees can't improve the consistency rating.

Could it be that because referees do a thankless job with a high criticism quota, the standard of entrant isn't very good?

A limited player can never reach the same level as the more naturally gifted and, while refereeing is a more technical pursuit, it's still true that some have a natural aptitude for it, whereas others don't.

FRC research showed that the average number of yellow cards per game was 6.6 in recent years. That's quite high and, no doubt, influenced their proposal to force an automatic replacement for players guilty of certain offences.

When it comes to advocating it at Congress next month, 18 yellow cards at last Sunday's Westmeath-Louth game will greatly strengthen their hand.

Irish Independent

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