A REVIEW of the black card system would seem at last to be under way if general disquiet among the powers that be about inconsistencies in its execution is anything to go by.
Its erratic application in the All-Ireland final has clearly brought the matter to a head. No team has suffered more than Mayo under a rule that seems to mean different things to different referees.
What is one referee’s black card is another’s yellow or, to the next, perhaps nothing worse than a tick in the notebook. And if any one thing warrants its abolition, it is that some referees are conditioned, perhaps unconsciously, by the protests of those who think the opposition has been too leniently treated.
The introduction of the black card was well intentioned. Tight games were often being decided by cynical fouling, the furtive trip, or timely tug of a jersey that obstructs a score especially near the end, was too leniently punished, or not at all.
What has made it difficult to implement fairly is that the infraction has to be seen to be deliberate. Referees have to decide whether a player is intentionally grounded or tripped, and too often referees allow themselves to be influenced by the ‘aggrieved’ player.
Now there is talk of replacing the black card with sin-bin punishment similar to that used in rugby. If introduced and fouls wrongly interpreted by referees, the punishment for the offender could prove harsher even than the black card.
No replacement for a player dispatched to the sin-bin for ten minutes or so is allowed. Coming at a vital time in the game that could be the difference between victory and defeat ... or justice and injustice done.
Fouling will not change, and referees will continue to err, to make incorrect decisions irrespective of what rules are in place. Players like Tom Parsons and Donal Vaughan will continue to be brazenly assaulted, as they were in the All-Ireland final replay while linesmen watched and took no action.
Players like Aidan O’Shea will continue to be sledged and hacked down unceremoniously on the edge of the rectangle, and his assailants cleared by weak referees and linesmen afraid to make decisions against influential counties like Dublin.
Andy Morans everywhere will continue to be blatantly tripped while the referee fails to implement the black card rule. Players like Lee Keegan will not escape the wrath of officials who have already been persuaded, consciously or unconsciously, by pre-match criticism of the player’s performance.
Mayo’s injured full-back Ger Cafferkey says that the take on the battle between Keegan and Diarmuid Connolly is disingenuous to both players. “Lee is the best footballer I have ever seen and played with. I see the type of athlete he is and I see how amazing his defending and tackling techniques,” he said in a pre-replay interview.
“People are painting a very nasty and cynical picture of it but I would love to see it painted in a more positive light. It’s two of the best footballers showing their range of skills against each other.”
“I think people are going to be looking back at this and say that was a great duel for a couple of years ... two of the best footballers in Ireland going toe to toe over a series of games. This is what football dreams are made of.”
He said he was not trying to paint it as sweetness and light, adding: “I’m trying to paint it as a great example of skills within the duel.”
If referee Maurice Deegan had studied Cafferkey’s remarks, he might have had a different take on the indiscretion that led to Keegan’s dismissal.
Calls for video replays are growing louder
IN addition to calls for the introduction of the sin-bin, the installation of a video referee is also being sought to rid the game of the nasty off-the-ball incidents which enraged those who watched the semi-final. Dublin’s Bernard Brogan has backed the calls.
Dr Tom Brett (composer of ‘We are Mayo’), who lives in Fremantle, Australia, also sees the need for video replays.
“The standard of refereeing leaves a lot to be desired, and the GAA must accept ultimate responsibility for that,” the Charlestown native writes. “I agree the black card is a disaster area and I see no hope for it into the future. The yellow card needs to be … accompanied by ten minutes in the bin.
“But the greatest need of all is the introduction of video replays to check out foul play, especially off-the-ball incidents. Only then will referees get some objective input as to whether or not a foul or foul play has been committed and sterner action needs to be taken.
“I expect respect for referees will grow in tandem with video replays and yellow card sin-bins. Two yellow cards should be a sending off.
“James McCarthy quite deliberately threw his body at Donie Vaughan, who was held on the ground and unable to protect himself. [That] deserved, in my opinion, a straight red card.
“Such foul play – attacking the head of another player while pinned on the ground – was a very cynical act. A video replay would have taken about 20 seconds and produced the evidence for all to see. No excuses then if you get marched.
“Nothing will convince me other than that McCarthy knew exactly what he was doing and the chances of him getting away with it were very high. Very cynical but handled very poorly on the day. Bring in video replays as a high priority for next year.”
Brett says the match officials, including the two linesmen, were gutless in issuing only a yellow card when a red was clearly called for the striking of Cillian O’Connor while he was lying on the ground.
“Perhaps we need two officiating referees on the pitch, as in Aussie rules. One goal line umpire is sufficient, as proven again by Aussie rules, where scoring averages are much higher.”
He said the respect for rugby referees was very high and deservedly so as video replays were used very judiciously.
“I cannot understand why Aidan O’Shea didn't get a free when he was twice fouled on the edge of the square in the dying minutes of the match.”
He said the emergence of Brendan Harrison and Patrick Durcan was very significant. “We need two scoring forwards of equal calibre. Perhaps Conor O’Shea, Stephen Coen and Conor Loftus will emerge as bigger strike weapons. I hear that Reape and Irwin from the under-21s could fit the bill as well.”
“Finally, the manager and coaching staff deserve great credit for getting the team to that level and keeping the hype under wraps. They will all learn from it and stiffen the old resolve to take the ultimate prize.”