Thursday 18 January 2018

Eugene McGee: Black card critics don't know what they're on about

Referee David Coldrick shows the black card to Robbie Kiely of Tipperary during the All-Ireland Semi-Final game against Mayo. Photo: Sportsfile
Referee David Coldrick shows the black card to Robbie Kiely of Tipperary during the All-Ireland Semi-Final game against Mayo. Photo: Sportsfile
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

The highest number of points ever recorded in league and championship football was 2,236 in 2014, the year after the black card became GAA law.

It was 2,118 in 2015 and so far in 2016 the points tally is 2,157 with one game to go. Prior to 2014 the highest tally was 2,058 in 2002, a year when there were five more championship games than the average for the last three years.

So in the past three seasons almost 400 points over the previous record tally have been scored. The black card presence may not be totally responsible for these figures but it is certainly a major factor.

But such has been the level of sustained attacks of the black card by a small section of football people since 2014 one gets the impression that it is the equivalent of the black plague.

Now let's have a glance at a couple of other statistics. So far this year the average number of black cards issued by referees has been 1.18 per game, which is tiny in comparison with the total number of frees.

So why is there such an outcry from some commentators?

The black card is an easy option for these critics because deep down a lot of GAA people do not want to see discipline enforced, except when it suits their own cause.

Many of these people cling to the macho image of the past as still being in the DNA of Gaelic football, regardless of fair play.

That is why for a century or more the third-man tackle, otherwise known as a license to kill, was ignored and indeed often applauded by some spectators and commentators.

The black card has almost eliminated that particular dark art. The reason the black card was brought in was to curb and eventually eliminate cynical play, which had become rampant in the game, and I defy anybody to prove it has not worked in that respect.

A lot of GAA people have always had a liking for illegal physical contact, and that included the pulling down of a player to prevent a goal.

That has largely been stopped, hence the higher scoring rates, aided by the use of the advantage rule. Who can object to that?

There are two main problems that generate criticism on this topic: lack of knowledge of the black card rules, and inconsistency by referees in applying it.

The latter does not just apply to the black card; it is a problem with penalty awards, the pick-up off the ground, the issuing of yellow cards and many other aspects of the rules.

Lack of understanding of the black card rule is the greatest source of controversy. Quite simply, many commentators and spectators do not know what they are taking about re this rule.

Tipperary's Robbie Kiely (below) was not sent off for a deliberate pull-down against Mayo, rather for a deliberate body collision aimed at taking the opponent out of the movement of play, to quote the wording of the rule. This in effect was a third man tackle and was a correct decision.

The fact that this happened early in the game should not have had any bearing: a foul is a foul no matter what time it happens. A different referee might have been swayed by emotion and not used the black card but that is a separate matter.

Some people who should know better are now crying out for the sin-bin to replace the black card. That was tried in competitive games and was shot down on the instigation of big-name managers who colluded to scuttle it. Enough said, discipline how are you!

One area that could possibly be amended is the problem of black cards issued in the closing minutes of a game but that could be remedied simply by the present penalty of three cards in any season qualifying for one-match suspension being reduced to two blacks cards in a season.

By the way, one other rule that was introduced at the same time was that any player verbally abusing an opponent or the referee in aggressive manner should receive a black card.

If that was applied in a couple of high profile games then sledging would soon disappear, but referees have hardly every used the rule, which is a shame.

If the objectors to the black card are so convinced of their beliefs then they should send a motion to Congress to have it removed. That will only take a 66.7pc majority as opposed to the 72pc that passed the black card originally.

Irish Independent

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