Monday 17 June 2019

Comment: Prevention always better than cure but hurling does not need 'absurd' black card

Karl McKaigue. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Karl McKaigue. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

It's been simmering away in the background for some time but talk of hurling's 'black card problem' is grossly exaggerated.

Frustration was vented by Slaughtneil's Karl McKaigue in the wake of their All-Ireland club SHC semi-final defeat to Na Piarsaigh last month when team-mate Brendan Rogers was hauled down on two occasions with goals on his radar.

McKaigue noted that "if it had have been a football game they (supporters) would have been screaming and shouting for a black card" but therein lies the crucial difference.

It's not football and the same rules do not apply.

When Liam O'Neill attempted to tackle cynicism during his reign as GAA president by tabling a motion for 2015 Congress calling for the black card to be introduced into hurling, it was overwhelmingly defeated with 79pc voting against.

That came two years after it was written into football's rules by a 71pc majority and there is no way that the hurling opinion has shifted that much in such a short space of time to have the conversation entertained with as much enthusiasm as it is.

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Hurling's needs are far different than football's and just because two disciplines fall under the same umbrella, it doesn't mean that they should be painted with the one brush, particularly with a game as unique as the small-ball code.

It's natural that fouls occur and opponents are upended given the robust nature of a stick game but it's much harder to make it pay when you can get punished from 100 yards out, such is the standard of striking nowadays.

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My own colleague Colm Keys tweeted the following having watched the final minutes of last Saturday's league quarter-final between Galway and Wexford as the latter closed out the game in the dying minutes with some choice challenges.

"More compelling evidence in Wexford Park that hurling could do with a black card type sanction for cynical play," he wrote. While there have been glances of this cynicism, they are largely isolated incidents.

At no stage has there been a Seán Cavanagh moment where an incident reeked of cynicism and while it definitely does exist in hurling - you'd be a fool to say otherwise - it is far from the problem it is often advertised to be.

As McKaigue added, "cynicism is always going to be in games". That is the nature of competitive sport but this is no overnight sensation and my vintage Offaly memories shift back to the final quarter of the 1998 All-Ireland SHC final.

With the Faithful gripping on to a slim lead against Kilkenny, legendary corner-back Martin Hanamy yanks PJ Delaney's helmet off when the Kilkenny attacker looks certain to score - he would get jail for it now - while minutes later Michael Duignan wraps his two arms Delaney from behind to avert danger.

There was also an instance in Tipperary and Dublin's last-eight clash at the weekend and there's no doubt that it is creeping into hurling more but it is not close to the level where something radical needs to be changed.

Hurling is rightly lauded as one of Ireland's finest creations so why fix something that's not broken? Far too often, social media, combined with the volume of hurling games being broadcast on television, leave the masses prone to exaggeration.

Cynicism - call it cheating if you like - happens in every game. Be it third-man tackles, body checks or trips, it's been happening since the dawn of time and is usually more common when teams are chasing leads in the dying minutes.

It's dog eat dog when your county's progress is on the line and things naturally swerve outside the rules from time to time but that's always been the case. It's called closing out games.

If a team playing with the aid of a massive breeze regularly fouls the opposition around their own '65 as the free is unlikely to be scored, is that cynicism? No, it shows street smarts as the threat of conceding scores is reduced.

Besides, the idea of implementing a rule which has often made a mockery of football is absurd. The black card has certainly not solved football's ills and its misinterpretation has undermined big games on numerous occasions.

Watching the action in Páirc Tailteann on Sunday and seeing Down's Anthony Doherty cynically drag Meath's Donal Lenihan to the ground in the first minute with no black card forthcoming from referee Barry Tiernan - who otherwise had a brilliant game - sums up the rule's implementation.

If it was a roaring success in football and showed the way forward, fair enough. But it's not and there's no need for hurling to follow suit. The urge to sanitise sport and remove all dark arts would be to hurling's detriment.

Goal rate is down in hurling but changes in styles and the use of sweeper systems are in place to lessen green flags and the one-on-one penalty is now an appropriate punishment for an indiscretions inside the 13-yard line.

As Philly McMahon has intimated, the implications for players after putting lives on hold for a year to represent their county would be heartbreaking for a split-second indiscretion.

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody was "absolutely opposed" to the notion of a black card rule four years ago, feeling that "we don't need to tinker with hurling at all," and it's hard to disagree.

Prevention is better than cure and while not ruling out the possibility of the black card down the line, no cure is needed now.

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