RULE 1 of the Velominati Cycling Rules reads: “Obey the Rules.” But it is Rule 5 that is the crux. It states simply: “Harden the f*** up.”
The GAA hierarchy would do well to remember these as the current season unfolds.
The Black Card squeezed through at Congress. Now, it is up and running in the pre-season tournaments. But lovers of Gaelic football will be forgiven for not throwing our hats in the air just yet. You see, we have been here before!
In the 2004/05 season, the ‘sin bin’ was introduced in an attempt to free the game from the tyranny of the spoilers. Prior to its introduction it was endorsed by the big name managers, who were given their due respect by being involved in a lengthy consultation process. It’s fun to remember what some of them said at the time.
At one such forum in Portlaoise in 2004, there was virtually unanimous support for the proposal. Guess who was at the head of the posse, telling the Press afterwards: “I think a sin-bin would be a very good thing to experiment with in next year’s McKenna Cup and O’Byrne Cup?” Why, none other than Mickey Harte!
Yet within 12 months, it was the managers who had killed it off. They wailed and moaned in the papers every Monday morning for a few months and the hierarchy lost its nerve.
In 2009, a modified sin bin rule was introduced but this time it was subjected to concentrated managerial attacks from the off and once again, the GAA buckled.
The debate in the run up to the passing of the watered-down ‘black card’ proposal at the most recent Congress was marked by constant scaremongering from some of the big name managers.
The big problem for the No Camp was that logic was not on their side, but it didn’t stop them from venting their spleen. The eminent members of the FRC had carried out exhaustive and exhausting research on the state of the game and had reached conclusions which were factually based.
One manager’s response – epitomising the all style and no substance approach of the wreckers - was that “Small minded suits are intent on wrecking the game!”
Aidan O’Rourke, then Louth manager, lashed the FRC as “meddlers and little to be ats, who never coach.”
But it was Mickey Harte who was the most vocal critic, describing the FRC members as Eugene McGee’s “cohorts,” as though they were involved in some outrageous and sneaky attack on the fabric of the game.
Harte’s argument, inevitably, was not an argument at all, rather a bald statement that “the game is fine” and “the current rules just need to be properly applied.”
Glen Ryan, whose teams play some of the most negative football I have seen, peddled the line that it would “confuse referees!”
At Congress, the Referees’ Chief Pat McEnaney – a man who has refereed a game or two in his time – stood up and said that “referees want this, as it will clarify things and give us the tools we need.”
His words were borne out to spectacular effect in the following months. Tyrone’s behaviour on three successive Championship weekends in August set the alternative philosophies in stark relief.
My explosion on RTE after their entirely dishonourable victory over Monaghan forced people to take sides and pushed the cynical fouling issue out of the shadows. Suddenly, cynical fouling was mainstream.
The day after the night before I was swamped as I tried to get up Jones’ Road for the second quarter-finals’ day. Cheered, hugged and photographed, it was apparent that in future Gaels were no longer going to sit on their hands in frustration as the game was dragged into the gutter. The mood was positively buoyant.
SUPPORT FROM TAOISEACH?
As I made my way to my seat I was slapped firmly on the back. I turned and, to my surprise, it was the Taoiseach!
I had never met him before. He grabbed me and said “Fair fucks to you Joe, fair fucks to you, it needed to be said.”
With that, he turned on his heel and was gone.
G.A.A. CEO, Padraic Duffy, spotted me and embraced me, shaking my hand furiously. Three of the FRC lads a few seats along roared in delight when they saw me.
When Sean Cavanagh and the rest were shame-facedly telling the media they hated cynical fouling and the Black Card rule couldn’t be introduced soon enough, it was clear a new mood was abroad.
Since that fateful weekend in August, there has scarcely been a word of protest raised against the Black Card. A fortnight ago, it was introduced with a whimper not a bang.
Down manager James McCartan told the Press after their McKenna Cup game with Derry that the three black cards his team received were “textbook examples.” For the record, the black cards issued were for two blatant body checks and one ‘Sean Cavanagh!’
In August in Croke Park, the crowd was enraged when the referee flourished a yellow to the Tyrone great after his rugby tackle on Conor McManus. But it was all the referee could do. Next time it happens ‘Big Sean’ will be on the line. The Black Card introduces the principle that skill and positive play must be protected. The hierarchy must now show the courage of their convictions until that principle becomes firmly established in the GAA’s psyche.
The naysayers are like the Northern flag protesters. Because they have no logical arguments, they are reduced to pandering to their own constituency. They previously wrecked attempts to cure the cancer of cynical fouling. There will be teething problems. There will be days when the FRC lads and the hierarchy will wonder if they have done the right thing.
On those days, all they need to do is follow Rule 5 . . . .