Sunday 25 February 2018

'New rules will lead to swarm defences'

Armagh boss Grimley warns fear of black card will leave defenders too afraid to tackle

Referee Eddie Kinsella with his black book, red and yellow cards before the start of the game between Carlow and Longford Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE
Referee Eddie Kinsella with his black book, red and yellow cards before the start of the game between Carlow and Longford Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The extensive roll-out of the black card over the weekend may have been relatively benign and well received in most quarters, but that hasn't stopped two of the concept's biggest critics predicting a fundamental shift back to heavier defensive emphasis.

After a season in which the two teams that proclaimed their attacking virtues the loudest reached the All-Ireland final, Louth manager Aidan O'Rourke has reiterated his fears for the "physicality" of Gaelic football.

O'Rourke was a trenchant critic of the black card introduction after last year's Congress and has seen nothing since in the games he has observed to convince him that his fears were misplaced.

"It was noticable the drop in intensity and the drop in physicality in Louth's game on Saturday (O'Byrne Cup against DCU) and I was in attendance at Armagh and Queen's on Sunday (McKenna Cup) and it was less than the pace you would expect from a challenge game. Players were afraid to make challenges," said O'Rourke.

His observations were backed up by Armagh manager Paul Grimley, who feels the black card will be counter -productive to the desire for attacking football.

"A lot of teams are trying to move away from a blanket defence situation but it (black card) is only going to encourage just that. What is felt (by the architects of the black card) is one step forward could actually be two steps back," said Grimley.

Like O'Rourke, he cautions about the dangers of a game that could lose its phsyical edge.

"My mind hasn't been swayed in any way from what I've seen. I don't think it's an improvement on the game, I think it will make it more timid," he said.

"You have to say now that tackling is really a non-event, bar the swarming of players. Is that the game we all grew up with? The answer is no."

The GAA confirmed that there were 18 black cards shown over the weekend, an average of less than one per game.


O'Rourke said he couldn't help noticing the spike in scoring in so many games but questions whether that is necessarily a good thing.

The average points per game at the weekend by comparison with the corresponding games 12 months ago was up by more than four and a half.

The absence of Tipperary, Limerick, Clare and Waterford may have distorted results in the McGrath Cup in Munster a little.

From 18 games on the first weekend in January 2013, 33-417 was scored, an average of 28.66 per game.

Over last weekend, 52-509 was scored from 20 games, giving an average of 33.25 points.

"I appreciate that was part of the motivation of where we are going with this to make the game a better spectacle with higher scores and promote attacking play, but for me, good defence and a good tackle is as pleasing as a good score -- if not more so," said O'Rourke.

"As people get a better look at it, it will become more important not to allow defenders to be isolated and not allow defenders to be one on one.

"Where we will end up is with more packed defence, because players are not making the tackles they should be making.

"I've seen it already, I've heard it discussed with coaching staff I'm involved with saying 'we can't afford to leave certain players isolated on their own'. I think that's what we're going to end up with.

"What I hope will happen is that players will learn to trust the referees, that they will start making tackles."

O'Rourke highlighted the black carding of Brian White in Louth's defeat to DCU as one of the flaws in the new concept.

Already on a yellow card White was, according to O'Rourke, mistakenly identified as the player to obstruct an opponent, thus meriting a black card.

A black on top of a yellow meant that he was red-carded and could not be replaced.

"The upshot of that was he couldn't be replaced so we were down to 14. The game was over at that stage," he noted. "We're looking to get that reversed because while there is no suspension, there is a totting up process here.

"I understand the referee is doing his best with it.

"I remonstrated with him at the time, as did the linesman. But if that happened in a crucial league game you would be apoplectic."

Louth intend to appeal White's red card.

Grimley says supporters will lose patience with the black card as much as managers and players.

"It will not be long before supporters get frustrated with this. It is open to interpretation of the referees and if the referees get it seriously wrong coming into the summer time there is going to be a lot of annoyance, not only with players and managers but supporters as well," he said.

In Dublin yesterday, Donegal captain Michael Murphy admitted the danger of a black card is "in the back of everyone's head."

"You can hear the crowd going after any foul -- they are cheering for a black card but it is going to take a while for everybody to get educated on it," he said.

"This whole thing of cynical tackling has been brought out and brought forward, but from my view, any time you tackle you try to go for the ball and maybe sometimes it comes off as very clumsy and it's trying to define if that is clumsy or whether it's cynical or just a bad tackle."

Irish Independent

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