McEnaney braced for early teething problems as black card makes debut
IT'S only a few short weeks since Dublin collected Sam Maguire in scorching sunshine, but for a handful of counties, their 2014 campaign will kick off in freezing conditions in the coming days.
Armagh and Down are wasting no time, and their O'Fiaich Cup match scheduled for tonight is set to be one of the first games to be played under the new 'black card' regulations.
Since they were narrowly passed with just 4pc to spare last April, the new rules have continued to divide opinion.
Eugene McGee and the Football Review Committee (FRC) insist the new card is the best way to combat a growing trend of cynical play in football, while others have come out against the proposals as needless meddling.
But with Armagh and Down starting their seasons tonight and Louth, Derry, Meath, Westmeath, Offaly and Cavan set to see action this week, the new regulations will get their first concerted trial in a game scenario.
They aren't the most high-profile outings but previous rule changes have caused major confusion among match officials and players alike. Back in 1999, referee Niall Barrett flashed 20 cards and sent off six players in the Leinster football championship clash between Carlow and Westmeath after a change in regulations.
The confusion centred around the introduction of yellow and red cards, and it was the Cork official's understanding that a personal foul warranted a yellow card and a second offence would see a red card brandished.
After the slew of cards, Westmeath won the game but it left a mess for administrators to clean up. The controversy ensued with Croke Park's Games Administration Committee ruling the result should stand while Leinster declared the game null and void.
Eventually it was decided that there would be no replay but it was an embarrassing episode for the GAA who, ahead of the introduction of the black card on January 1, have undertaken an ambitious education programme for match officials around the country.
Referees' chief Pat McEnaney and the county's top whistlers have been giving presentations to a variety of units within the GAA for weeks now. Every official in the country is expected to attend a workshop or access the provided e-learning module before taking charge of any game, including club level, in the new year.
"We will have gotten around all the counties by this weekend," McEnaney said. "We had 11 two- man teams going around making presentations. The take-up has been good. The presentation we had was good."
McEnaney has also instructed his top referees to be available for duty in pre-season competitions next month. Traditionally, up-and-coming referees are trialled in those competitions, but he believes it's important the black card rule gets off to the best possible start.
"We asked that provincial councils use some of their championship referees, and let the guys who they want to promote run the line the first day, and then maybe give him a game to referee in the second round," he said.
The Monaghan man agreed that there are bound to be teething problems with the new rules.
"There's no question about that. Look at the 'square ball' rule that was changed. Some people think there is no 'square ball' rule at all in football now. There's still ambiguity there for them. And there are other rules that have been there 10 years and they still cause problems.
"So you won't get these rules to everyone before January, but we've been happy with the response so far."