Sunday 25 February 2018

Colm O'Rourke: The black card has become a real joke and referees need to act

Neil McGee is shown a yellow card by Eddie Kinsella during last Sunday’s bad-tempered clash between Kerry and Donegal Photo: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Neil McGee is shown a yellow card by Eddie Kinsella during last Sunday’s bad-tempered clash between Kerry and Donegal Photo: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Last week I watched five games live and about the same again on television. This is not scientific research but there are a few conclusions. The first one is that the referees need to get their act together with both yellow and black cards. The black one has morphed into something which was never intended and has become a real joke in the manner that it is now being interpreted.

My view of the black card when it was introduced was that the basic intentions were to eradicate the practice of players giving the ball across an opponent's head and being stopped going for the return pass; and to get rid of deliberate pull-downs.

That was fine and I don't think anyone would object. Now, I was in Galway last Sunday and two players, Donal Keogan and Damian Comer, were black carded for the most innocuous-looking trips, if they were even trips at all. You have a player on the ground who is scrambling for possession and very slightly interferes with an opponent. That's hardly a foul, but the next thing a black card appears in both cases, to the total frustration of spectators and the players involved.

In Tralee last Sunday, Shane Enright got the same sanction for making sure that Michael Murphy didn't walk across him. There was nothing to it. Yet in the first few minutes of that game, Kieran Donaghy blatantly threw Murphy to the ground without any sanction. If Eddie Kinsella had used the black card for what it was intended and sent off Donaghy, he would have headed off a lot of further trouble at the pass.

The previous week, Neil Gallagher saw black, again for a very minor-looking offence when playing for Donegal against Mayo. If this is going to be the impact of the black card then I am completely against it. The good intention has morphed into a monster and it's time for referees to use a bit of cop-on.

Then there were the yellows. On Wednesday week last I was in Parnell Park for the Leinster under 21 championship match between Meath and Dublin. There was not a stroke in it, never mind a dirty stroke, yet the referee managed to send off three players on double yellows. Perhaps the assessor will give him top marks - as some of the others are obviously getting - but what is happening is that football is now almost completely non-contact.

That is down to the utter stupidity of referees giving yellow cards for the simplest of fouls. This rush to be technically correct is ruining football just as much as continuous handpassing or poor tackling. Showing the first yellow puts a referee under pressure. Of course people can argue that a player on a yellow should keep his nose clean, but that means having no physical contact when going for the ball.

There are cases now where managers should substitute players when they're on yellow cards because some referees see everything as yellow. Saturday night in Croke Park took the biscuit. Jonny Cooper got a second yellow when there wasn't even a foul. God between us and all harm. Will there be a meeting soon where someone will shout stop?

For anyone who wanted an old-style football match with several brawls thrown in, there was nothing to beat Kerry and Donegal. It was the first time for quite a while that I saw players actually throwing punches. Some even landed. Alan Fitzgerald got a straight red for hitting Neil McGee. The card was justified but McGee deserved it for, at best, trying to twist Fitzgerald's fingers, and at worst attempting to break them. McGee looked like Conor McGregor from the night before as he was led off and was not happy with that either.

Leo McLoone of Donegal then took the short walk for throwing a punch at Aidan O'Mahony. Not the right thing to do, but what has made O'Mahony such an angry young man who has to have his face in every scrap?

He was sent off in the All-Ireland final and still hasn't learned that toughness and his carry-on are not one and the same. Perhaps the fact that he did a number on Murphy in the All-Ireland final three years ago has convinced him that there are no boundaries.

This was a nasty game which was plain to see in word and deed. Referee Eddie Kinsella lost control early and must have felt like a firefighter at a bush fire who realised he had left the hose behind him. Although, when players decide they are going to ignore the rule of law no matter what, it is very difficult for a referee to maintain order. And by the time Kinsella tried to regain control, it was much too late. The horse had bolted.

Both sides were high on testosterone or whatever is needed to ensure they are going to front up, not back down, man up, lay down a marker or whatever is the jargon that is now common. Maybe it was meldonium or whatever Maria Sharapova was on, too much blood going to the extremities. That was a joke by the way, in case our cleaner than clean footballers take umbrage. The result is a lot of grappling, mouthing and showboating, even if there were a few digs thrown, and some of those were cowardly enough too.

And something needs to be done with players holding on to the ball after a free is given against them. If the ball is not dropped immediately there should be a 50-metre penalty to save ugly skirmishes.

Yet for all of that, the Kerry-Donegal affair was a football match that supporters would be glad to go and see every Sunday. It is such a pity that a revised championship cannot be constructed so that games like that could take place all over the country in some form of round-robin in the months of June and July. Crowds would double at the very least, and where there is a whiff of danger as there was last Sunday, then the attendance would treble. The business for provincial towns would be just fantastic at a time when the economic engine is not roaring much in rural Ireland.

All of this at a time when Tyrone and Derry played out an entirely civilised match in Omagh; a truce before the championship has obviously been agreed. It will only hold until summer. Tyrone are on a quick return to the top division and they are probably the only team outside the top tier who could win the All-Ireland.

That first division is the most competitive I can ever recall and has developed into a mini-championship. However, by the end of the seventh round it will lose most of its appeal and teams won't be particularly interested in the semi-finals. Time to scrap those and let players back to their clubs for a few weeks before the championship begins. And when is that referees' meeting?

Sunday Indo Sport

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport