Thursday 18 January 2018

No black-card agenda here Aidan, just common sense

Louth manager Aidan O'Rourke
Louth manager Aidan O'Rourke
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Truly, it's time to take a step back and see the introduction of the black card to Gaelic football's disciplinary armoury from next January for what it is.

Such has been the extensive coverage given to a modest attempt to counteract cynical fouling that it would be easy to mistake it for something vitally important.

The vote by GAA Congress to tweak the rules so that a footballer guilty of a cynical foul must be replaced is interesting within the sport itself but scarcely merited coverage on news bulletins. Did nothing more important happen last Saturday?

That's the danger with losing perspective. Minor issues become magnified to ridiculous proportions; sides are taken, agendas are attributed to people where none exists and when it's all over, recriminations fly.

Aidan O'Rourke is leading the latter charge, variously questioning the decision to establish the Football Review Committee, the recommendation to introduce the black card, the conduct of the debate at Congress and the media for an alleged lack of balance in presenting the arguments.

Dear, dear, so many plots and agendas, all presided over by a manipulative media, shamefully silencing brave opposition voices. Or so he would have you believe.

Aidan, you were an outstanding footballer and are now doing a good job as Louth manager, but in this matter, may I respectfully suggest that you're talking rubbish.

I won't speak for the media in general on how it dealt with the FRC proposals. However, I will defend the coverage in the Irish Independent – the country's biggest-selling daily paper – because it was fair and balanced from start to finish.

When the proposals were first issued, I strongly criticised them for failing to address the handpass epidemic. I also felt that the sin bin sanction should have been put forward to counteract cynical play.

I believed – and still do – that the absence of those two measures was a fundamental flaw which undermined the entire package.

Still, since the handpass and sin bin were not included, it was important to deal with the actual proposals – which we did in this newspaper. On several occasions since the start of the year, we quoted inter-county managers who were opposed to the black card and over the last two weeks we reported extensively on county board decisions to vote 'no'.

Last Wednesday, our back page GAA story was headed: 'FRC's black-card proposal hanging by a thread as 'no' vote grows'. On Saturday, we reported how the indications at the opening Congress session on Friday night were that the FRC proposal was in trouble. So much for manipulation.

Yesterday, we afforded Aidan O'Rourke the opportunity to suggest that a strong media campaign had been orchestrated in favour of the black card. Not here, Aidan, and any attempt to do so would have met with a flinty response.

Personal opinion is a different matter. I supported the back card proposal, even in its diluted form, on the basis that it would bring some improvement to the situation. It's weak but better than nothing.


Several others in the media backed it too, not because of some stealthy shepherding by the dark forces of GAA manipulation but because they thought it was a good idea.

Are team managers the only ones whose opinions count, the only ones who know what's best for the game? Even then, quite a few of them supported the black card, although those who opposed it got greater coverage because they were more strident.

The reality of Saturday's debate was simple. Even some delegations which were mandated to oppose the black card obviously lost their resolve in the face of solid evidence that cynical fouling was a destructive force in the game. Only two delegates – one each from Cork and Tyrone and neither very convincing – spoke against the proposal.

In the interests of balance, president Liam O'Neill regularly asked for opposition voices. Why didn't others speak up?

That wasn't down to media manipulation but presumably to an unwillingness to defend the indefensible. For instance, one of the redder herrings of recent weeks claimed that the black card would be a nightmare for referees to implement.

Not so, countered referees' chairman Pat McEnaney, who said: "We want it brought in."

Who engineered that? Nobody, just as nobody manipulated others' opinion either.

Whether inside or outside the media, people made up their own minds, with a large majority coming to the unequivocal view that cynical fouling was bad for Gaelic football.

Now, who can argue against that?

As for unbalanced media debate, it's usually the last resort of the beaten side.

Irish Independent

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