The “black card” proposal may well have succeeded at Congress, but lovers of Gaelic football won’t be throwing their hats in the air just yet.
The ‘Yes’ vote on the use of the black card was deeply significant. But it is only the first step in the process of freeing Gaelic football from the tyranny of the spoilers.
The big surprise to all fans of logic is that 30 per cent voted ‘No.’
But on closer scrutiny, if delegates had followed their mandates strictly, the proposal ought to have failed, which means that some delegates used their brains in the secret vote.
The big problem for the No Camp was that logic was not their friend.
On the one hand, the eminent members of the FRC had carried out exhaustive and exhausting research on the state of the game and arrived at conclusions which were factually based. This forced the naysayers into a position where all they could do was scaremonger, telling us Ian Paisley-style it would destroy the game and attacking the motives of those in support.
One county player tweeted that “small minded suits are intent on wrecking the game.” I don’t believe Tony Scullion even has a suit!
And it wasn’t “a suit,” but current Sligo star, David Kelly, who headed up na small group that studied 1,000s of hours of matches and provided the video analysis of tactical fouling that had delegates laughing in the aisles.
On Monday morning, when I tweeted my congratulations to him on his painstaking work, he tweeted back “Thankfully, my analysis days are over. I have new found respect for stats men all around the country.”
Aidan O’Rourke, the Louth manager typified the “Ulster Says Never, Never, Never” brigade when, when he lashed the FRC as “meddlers and little to be ats who never coach!”
One slight problem with that analysis was that the aforementioned suitless one from Ballinascreen (or more accurately Straw) is the Ulster Council’s elite coach of coaches. It might also be pointed out that FRC chief, Eugene McGee, coached Offaly to the most dramatic All-Ireland victory in GAA history, beating the Kerry team that couldn’t be beaten in 1982. I await Aidan’s onslaught on Sam with interest.
Mickey Harte was the leader of the No Camp (for reasons that do not need to be spelled out), describing the FRC members as Eugene McGee’s “cohorts,”
as though they were involved in some outrageous and sneaky attack on the game. Ironically (Mickey doesn’t do irony) he accused the Yes Camp of being
on some sort of personal crusade.
Look behind the bluster and there was no substance, which is why he didn’t persuade a single county to change tack. His arguments that “the game is fine “(Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right)” and “the current rules just need to be properly applied” (No Surrender) were not tenable.
Paul Early, a renowned Gaelic footballer from an iconic GAA family, dealt with this one in short order, pointing out that the maximum penalty for the outrageous fouls highlighted in the video nasty shown to Congress was a yellow card (which was, in fact, the penalty administered in each case). Even when the vote was done and dusted, Mickey wrote piously that “sadly, this became a crusade ... where being seen to win was more important than the precise detail of what was proposed.”
Before going on to make the usual personalised attacks without actually naming the people he was clearly referring to, before concluding that a 70 per cent vote was “a poor victory in the name of democracy” which merely means that Mickey is a sore loser.
One of the most popular and mystifying themes of the No Camp was 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. Referees need this. It will clarify things and give us the tools we need.”
Ruinded Club Football?
Mark McHugh, meanwhile, tweeted: “Wanting recognition for themselves, well done, you have just ruined our club football.”
I managed to get a copy of the FRC video and posted it on YouTube under the name Art Vanderlay. (Search for FRC video - Tactical Fouling). It has already had more than 10,000 views.
One of the stars of the video, unsurprisingly, was Mark. (I could use Mickey’s “a certain player” formula but Mark is shorter). Interestingly, the day after the motion succeeded, Mark performed one of his trademark pull downs against Mayo, which earned him a paltry yellow. He may make hay while the sun shines.
The problem that the black card has begun to tackle is that the way to win a game nowadays is to build up a lead, then protect it in the last quarter with deliberate fouling. So, in their two Championships under Jim McGuinness, Donegal have always been ahead in the last 15 minutes. The one
occasion that they weren’t (Dublin) was the only one they lost.
The philosophy of the better managers (James Horan, Mickey Harte, Jim McGuinness) is to “control the game.” By this, they mean get ahead, then cynically thwart any attempt at a comeback (e.g. Tyrone in the last 10 minutes v. Dublin a few weeks ago or Mayo in the last quarter against Dublin in the semi-final last year).
The black card solves the problem of the systematic tactical foul during the first 60 minutes. However, it does not solve the problem of the last 10.
Which means a man advancing on goal in the last 10 minutes will still be pulled down and at that stage, sending the perpetrator off is not an effective deterrent, especially where the attacker was dragged down outside the square.
A vivid recent example was Eoin Cadogan’s outrageous rugby tackle on Michael Murphy, preventing the winning goal. Donegal’s scant reward was
a 14 metres free. Where a clear goal scoring opportunity is destroyed in this way, a penalty must be given. In a few years, it will be.
The real game played by the FRC was to neutralize the blanket defences which have smothered the skills and made it almost impossible for good players to play. They realised that this type of puke defence is only possible if the opposition can be delayed outfield when they win the ball, so giving
time to retreat into their own half and form the defensive wall.
This is why the mark and the 30 metre penalty for delaying the free are so critical. Moving the ball 30 metres when a free is deliberately delayed would have brought it into scoring range and been a severe deterrent to the foul practice. Likewise, the spoiling of the midfield catcher would have been knocked on the head by the mark.
The No votes against both proposals mean that midfield will remain a haven for spoilers in the meantime, but it is now only a matter of time.
The surprising thing for outsiders is that the black card vote was carried so narrowly, scraping home by four per cent and that the other two key measures were rejected. It must, however, be remembered that the GAA is a conservative body, in it for the long haul.
In 2001, Congress voted against the motion to open up our pitches to rugby. In 2005, the motion to open up Croker to ‘foreign games’ was passed after stormy scenes. In Derry, recently, a motion to allow all suitable GAA venues to be used for the 2023 or 2027 RWC passed by a landslide. Blink and you’d have missed it!
The black card has introduced the principle that skill and positive play must be protected. Like the decision to open up Croke Park for rugby and soccer, that principle is now firmly established in the GAA’s psyche. The naysayers are the GAA’s flag protesters. Because they have no logical arguments, they are reduced to pandering to their own constituency. The failure to bring in the mark and the 30 metre penalty means they live to fight another day. But make no mistake, their day is fast approaching.
It’s not personal Michael, it’s strictly business . . .