Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Let's get into the black now

Referees will be showing the black card for certain offences
Referees will be showing the black card for certain offences

The big decision has been taken – but the real work in the lead up to the introduction of the new black card disciplinary system should start now.

When Congress voted to adopt the black card, it was certainly a major step forward particularly as it was thought that the motion on this particular issue would not gain the necessary two-thirds majority.

But democracy has prevailed and now everyone will have January 1, 2014 encircled on their calendars or diaries as a significant date given that the new disciplinary measure will come into force then, subject to formal approval from Central Council.

I would urge, though, that rather than wait until a 'cold' start is made then, a process of familiarisation should be undertaken so that players will be under no illusions as to what offences will be punished.

For decades we have been aware that while the playing rules are enshrined in the Official Guide, it is how they are interpreted by individual referees that really matters.

Hence the all too familiar controversies which arise and are now part and parcel of the championship season, in particular when often a contentious decision can have a marked bearing on the outcome of a game.

While there is a general acknowledgement that the introduction of the black card disciplinary system will encounter considerable teething problems at club level, it is important that at inter-county level the transition to this fairly radical punitive process should be as seamless as possible.

GAA Director General Paraic Duffy admits that "there is a task here, a big training issue" in relation to the introduction of the black card system.

To this end, I believe that the three main groups of people involved – players, managers and referees – should engage much more closely over the coming eight months so that by the end of November, when the playing season to all intents and purposes finishes, they will all have a better understanding of where they are at.

I would suggest that our top 15 referees attend county training sessions at which in-house matches are played and offer advice, help and encouragement in terms of facilitating the players to become familiar with what is now deemed a cynical foul.

Not surprisingly, there are those who believe already that the process will be abused in the closing stages of matches but I think that it is better we should all dwell on the positive aspects of this measure.

It is obviously the product of much thought and debate on the part of Eugene McGee and his Football Review Committee which included Ulster Coaching Development Officer Tony Scullion whose impassioned plea at Congress appeared to influence at least some of the voting.

I believe that rather than delay and merely hope that things go all right from January 1, the GAA should be pro-active and insist that players, referees and managers get a better understanding of what is involved overall.

Our leading referees, including David Coldrick, Joe McQuillan, Martin Duffy, Maurice Deegan, Derek Fahey and Michael Duffy among others, should be despatched to county squad training sessions to liaise with players and managers on the measure.

They do not have to be privy to team tactics – their only involvement in any training session would come when players are actually participating in a practice match.

There is no room for ambiguity in interpretation of what constitutes cynical fouling. Indeed the GAA is at pains to emphasise this message.

Black card offences are as follows:

1. Deliberately pulling down an opponent.

2. Deliberately tripping an opponent.

3. Deliberately colliding with an opponent.

4. Using abusive or provocative gestures or language to players.

5. Arguing with a match official in an aggressive manner.

For too long now there has been an 'us' and 'them' concept about players and referees. But it is essential that players are fully aware of the actual physical nature of the fouls that will be punished from January 1 by the issuing of a black card.

And to my mind nothing beats a practical demonstration of this from the referees themselves.

Let's not forget that the aim of the new measure is to speed up the game, strip it of the cynicism in which it has become engulfed at times and ensure that the ball is actually in play for much longer periods with interruptions restricted to a minimum.

There is a clear vision of what football should really be like and this is a step towards trying to ensure this can be transformed into reality.

I would hope that Congress has now paved the way to a better future and that gaelic football as a product, particularly at inter-county level, will be considerably enhanced.

The more skilful players will be able to give free rein to their skills and this will certainly please spectators.

But let's not wait until January 1 – the journey ahead must start immediately.

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