Tuesday 17 July 2018

The great debate: Is it time for hurling to introduce the black card for cynical fouls?

Tipperary sharpshooter Seamus Callanan is hauled to the ground by Galway’s John Hanbury, which resulted in a yellow card for the defender and a Tipperary penalty
Tipperary sharpshooter Seamus Callanan is hauled to the ground by Galway’s John Hanbury, which resulted in a yellow card for the defender and a Tipperary penalty

Colm Keys and Donnchadh Boyle

Yes says Colm Keys

On Newstalk's "Off The Ball" on Monday evening the former Tipperary captain Eoin Kelly was reflecting on how little fuss there had been back home over the foul by the Galway defender John Hanbury that potentially denied Seamie Callanan a fourth goal and, quite possibly, the keys to another crack at Kilkenny in an All-Ireland final.

If it was a big talking point, Kelly contended, he would have heard about it. The game was so good, he ventured, it was glossed over.

We can't accurately predict what might have happened next if play developed but Callanan - given the rich vein of form he was in - could be backed to find an extra yard and find a way to goal, by boot or bat.

As it was he was flung to the ground and pinned there by a young man who wasn't going to watch him waltz in once more. As far as Hanbury was concerned he could take his chances with a penalty instead, the small matter of a yellow card not a concern for the corner-back.

Kelly is right on one thing, the incident has been largely lost in the acclaim the game has received.

But if Tipperary folk weren't concerned, they should have been.

Even more than Donal O'Grady's felling of Richie Power in last year's All-Ireland semi-final between Limerick and Kilkenny this had real consequences for the result and has highlighted an obvious need for a black card deterrent in hurling again.

A fourth goal for Callanan would have given Tipp a three-point lead and some obvious extra momentum with just seven minutes remaining.

Given the lower rate of penalty conversions this summer since the one-on-one format was introduced, as opposed to the old format prior to the Stephen O'Keeffe save that prompted a clarification on the rule in June 2014, the pressure has become greater on the taker - making a penalty less punitive than it has been.

Callanan's point restored Tipp's lead but you sensed an energy in Galway from denying him, the perfect endorsement for cynicism paying off in hurling too.

It's correct to say that hurling and Gaelic football are two entirely different games, a point regularly put forward with those who have hurling at heart.

Fundamentally, they share some similarities but the ball works much harder in hurling and time in possession is a lot less, reducing the window of opportunity to commit a cynical foul.

Thus, cynical fouls don't happen nearly as often in hurling. That's accepted but it shouldn't provide a defence for not having a proper deterrent. And it certainly shouldn't be beneath hurling to embrace it.

No Says Donnchadh Boyle

There can be few people better positioned to comment on the differences between hurling and football than Mick Dempsey.

Dempsey is a Laois football man who became part of the furniture as Brian Cody built his Kilkenny empire over the last decade and more.

"I've a Gaelic football background but sometimes I even say what a load of baloney comparing Gaelic football and hurling," he said last month.

"They're two entirely different games. They're played on the same pitch with the same number of players, same number of officials but that's where the similarities end."

It's an interesting point and one that holds water in this argument.

Football brought in the black card after what was widely believed to be the most extensive consultation process the GAA has ever seen.

And it came about after years of unrest with some unsavoury aspects of play emerged that the rule book simply wasn't equipped to cope with.

A highly-respected committee led by Eugene McGee presented the black card rule and even after some hard lobbying at Congress, it was barely passed by delegates

And while many agree something needed to be done to tackle cynicism in the game, not everyone believes the sanction is doing what it is designed to do.

Players have shown again and again that they are still ready to take a black card in the closing stages of the game to prevent even the slightest chance of a score.

Just this week, Dublin manager Jim Gavin repeated his preference for a sin bin that would see a team numerically disadvantaged should they commit a cynical foul.

So the football community is far from united on the black card.

Hurling is different. Different in that it moves faster, different in that it is refereed differently and different in how it is analysed.

It's not that hurlers are any less likely to commit a cynical foul. The nature of the game mean chances simply don't come up as much.

You also have to consider the practicalities of it. It's not too long ago that Kilkenny legend Eddie Keher called for the use of cards to be scrapped altogether. So how would any new censure, particularly one that was seen as being introduced to tackle a 'football problem', be met by the hurling community?

Football and hurling share a governing body, facilities and even players.

But when it comes to rule changes, they need to be dealt with as completely different entities.

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