Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

We must tackle the right issues

Donegal's Michael Murphy was harshly red-carded against Tyrone yet serial transgressors appear to escape the ultimate sanction
Donegal's Michael Murphy was harshly red-carded against Tyrone yet serial transgressors appear to escape the ultimate sanction

It has often been said that gaelic football and rugby have much in common. Certainly it is not too difficult to appreciate that the two codes share a certain bond in relation to fielding, kicking, passing, support play and placing a strong emphasis on a defensive strategy.

I have deliberately omitted the work tackling from this overall view – and for a very good reason. And that is because 'rugby-style' tackling is becoming far too commonplace within gaelic games.

Even though there is much lamenting surrounding pulling, dragging and obstruction, the ills remain – players being tackled around the hips and dragged to the ground, supporting runners being deliberately impeded, dangerously high challenges made on players who are not in a position to take evasive action and the occasional infiltration of the insidious stamping and injudicious use of the knee on grounded opponents that epitomise cowardice in its ugliest form.

In the Tyrone v Donegal, Kerry v Kildare and Dublin v Mayo games the exchanges were, to put it mildly, feisty.

But it's precisely because the clash between the Red Hands and the All-Ireland champions in particular was such a passionate, throbbing battle that every GAA fan in the country will want a seat in the gallery when the teams lock horns again in the Ulster Championship in May.

Yet county board delegates, when they convene at their annual Congress in Derry this weekend, will surely hope to see some of the playing rules tweaked which might result in more severe punitive action being taken against what I would describe as 'serial foulers'.

I would sound a note of caution in relation to possible remedial action in this regard, however. Much is being made of the possible introduction of black cards as a means of curbing what passes for tackling in the modern game.

The Football Review Committee's proposal that deliberate drag-downs, cynical trips and third-man tackles should be punished by a black card will evoke considerable debate at Congress.

But I do not see this as proving the panacea for some of the ills currently afflicting the sport.

The first three players to receive a black card can be replaced but after that any player who transgresses will be banished from the playing arena and no replacement will be permitted.

As I see it, this could perhaps prove the precursor to 12-man games with half-a-dozen players watching from the touchline.

And what sort of spectacle would unfold then? I don't think that the aesthetic value of gaelic football would be enhanced if numerically disadvantaged teams were to become the norm.

I don't believe either that the black card policy can be successfully implemented at all levels within the GAA simply because this would impose an unduly heavy burden on the already beleaguered referees.

Yet the concept should not be disregarded. Firm action is required if the pulling, dragging and obstruction is to be at the very least limited – only a supreme optimist would envisage it being eradicated altogether.

There is an onus on managers and players to 'tidy up' gaelic football and make it a more appealing spectacle although managers will tell you they are not in the business of entertaining folk but of winning matches. And referees will tell you even more emphatically that their task will not be made any easier if they have to keep count on black cards.

Congress will undoubtedly be the focus of attention this week-end and the discussions pertaining to possible rule changes with amendments to disciplinary procedures likely to be passionate.

There are those within the GAA who subscribe to the view that we should let well enough alone – but 'well enough' is certainly not how gaelic football is currently visualised.

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