Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Say yes at congress

Mayo's Jason Doherty gets to grips with Hugh Lynch of Kildare at the weekend

When we were young, there was no 'manager' of a team. We wouldn't have known what a manager was. We had a 'trainer'; men who 'took' the under-12 or the parish league teams.

"Who's taking the Harps in the parish league?"

– "Patsy Moran is the trainer."

"Who is training the under-12s?"

– "Mick Murphy and John McElroy are taking them."

And when the trainer came to command, "forwards over there, backs over here", we all wanted to be forwards. The trainer had to think again and that meant picking out some of the more sturdy, country boys and making backs out of them.

Nothing ever compared to putting the ball over the bar or even hitting the net. I was thoroughly mediocre throughout underage and never got much better, but I eagerly awaited The Fermanagh Herald every Wednesday to open the match reports and see my name, in the left-half or full-forward position, with brackets and my tally (mainly meagre) inside them.

Oh, but we were innocent, too!

Last Saturday night, the Twitter debate during the Tyrone v Dublin league game was lively. Some were pointing out that in light of the blatant fouling towards the end, the black card proposal being brought to GAA's annual Congress this weekend was a necessity.

The black card would lead to a player being replaced for a deliberately cynical foul.

Only three are allowed, at which point teams start losing players as no more replacements would be permitted.

There are valid counter-arguments – one of the most voiced is the concern that teams will be greatly reduced and we could end up with matches of 10-a-side.

At the risk of being overwrought, and of bringing the 'won't someone please think of the children?' argument, I thought it sad that the following was tweeted by a Twitter user under the handle of Dónall Mac A Bhui; 'Every manager nowadays tells his players to stop the runner, I'm only 16 and my manager tells us to foul in this way.'

The game Gaelic football is in constant flux, but when the examples provided by the very highest level are proof that cheating prospers, that it is indeed rewarded, then the game has lost its innocence. The difference in the football that Declan played and Dónall currently plays must be sickening.

Cynical fouling is the elephant in the room, playing the saxophone and smashing cymbals together, pogo-ing around the room like Johnny Rotten, while the opponents of the black card proposal ignore it as if there is nothing there.

Some have said that a black card will make the job of the referee even harder as he is forced to determine whether say a jersey pull was deliberate or not. Here's the truth; it always is. There is nothing in the definition of the tackle about grasping the material of an opponent's kit. It should be punishable by instant dismissal, no excuses.

Step through the looking glass for a second and imagine a world with no cynical play.

In a meeting of Donegal and Tyrone, Stephen O'Neill and Michael Murphy could be both used at full-forward. Say each team puts their best man-markers on them and are replaced early on through a black card offence. It could be a day when each of them hit 10 points from play.

Instead of getting a scoreline like 1-13 to 0-12, which it was a couple of weeks ago in Healy Park, we could see scorelines like 2-18 to 3-19.

The number of goals would also increase, because defenders would not be able to execute the kind of ridiculous tackle that Eoin Cadogan performed on Murphy as he headed in to rattle the net against Cork at the weekend.

Some old habits die hard. Defenders are still measured by the amount their direct opponent scores against them. One of Páidí Ó Sé's proudest boasts (though it would be disputed around Paudge Quinn country) was that he only conceded one point to his direct opponent in 10 All-Ireland finals.

That kind of thinking will change and the game will develop further.

The situation as it pertains rewards cheating. Cast your mind back to last summer and the qualifier game between Kildare and Limerick.

With the game in injury time and Limerick up by a point, Kildare's Emmet Bolton got possession of the ball and ran 80 yards, exchanging passes, before he hit the equaliser, sending the game into an extra time that Kildare dominated.

And in the final analysis, Limerick were criticised because they did not haul Bolton down, sacrifice themselves a yellow card, or even a man.

Criticised for not cheating. Is this the sort of future that Gaelic football deserves?

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