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Black card still proving a grey matter

By John Campbell

It would seem reasonable to assume that almost four months after the introduction of the black card disciplinary measure to gaelic football, any perceived teething problems would have been eradicated.

But with less than a month to go before the Ulster senior football championship, this is far from being the case.

And now the Ulster Council will ponder deeply its refereeing appointments for the flagship competition following no fewer than three controversies already this month which have seen the competence, knowledge and indeed integrity of referees called into question.

When Tyrone hosted Dublin in the Allianz League at Healy Park, Omagh, the free count was a somewhat extraordinary 27-9 in favour of the visitors in a match which the Red Hands lost by just a point.

Frustrated Tyrone manager Mickey Harte was clearly counting up to 10 afterwards before alluding to the performance of Sligo referee Martin Duffy.

It was not only the referee's actual handling of the game that disappointed Tyrone but the failure of Duffy to add on what Harte described as "the appropriate amount of injury time" rather than the all-too-brief segment that was allowed.

In the event, Harte limited himself to saying: "We are looking for consistency from referees – did you see it out there?"

And his terse assessment on Dublin's tactics was not lost on GAA chiefs, who still find themselves confronted by an apparent unwillingness to take action against players engaging in cynical fouling – the very malaise for which the black card is supposed to be the instant remedy.

When Derry overcame Mayo in the league semi-final on Sunday week last, selector Paul McIver subsequently laid emphasis on the fact that razor-sharp forward Enda Lynn had been "halted unfairly 12 or 13 times alone" in the first half.

And to complete what must rank as a dubious hat-trick, Peter Reilly, the normally placid and avuncular Cavan Under-21 boss, angrily confronted referee Derek O'Mahoney following his team's agonising one-point loss to Dublin in Saturday's All-Ireland Under-21 semi-finals.

Reilly had watched his side stay in touch up until the closing minutes when Dublin's Conor McHugh, who had only been shown a yellow card rather than the designated black card for a cynical offence, scored a point that tied the sides at 0-10 each.

Cavan's fury was still palpable when referee O'Mahoney awarded Dublin a late free from which Cormac Costello scored the winning point.

Following next Sunday's league finals, the spotlight will switch to the championship and the GAA is steeling itself for an examination of the capabilities of its referees.

If recent high profile games are to be taken as a gauge, their shop-window competition is unlikely to be displayed to its best effect.

It is clear that whistlers have been showing a reluctance to invoke the black card.

To date we have been reminded that the championship will tell the real tale in terms of just how appropriate a measure the card will be in terms of eradicating cynicism.

Let's just hope that it won't be a sad tale.

Belfast Telegraph

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