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GAA must tackle yellow card farce

By Joe Kernan

If Joe Brolly is seeking the perfect sport, then he should abandon the GAA. It has been abundantly clear that over the last 30 years in particular, cynical fouling – some indeed would call it strategic fouling – has been endemic within gaelic football.

Strangely, too, it has persisted despite the fact that the high-profile matches in particular come under the most forensic scrutiny from commentators and pundits.

So should we really be surprised that one analyst in particular has obviously decided that enough is enough and has come down particularly hard on what he brands "a disgrace"?

The furore since Brolly's outburst – he had a justifiable point that lost some of its gravitas through his rather intemperate language – perhaps best highlights the fact that the rules in relation to tackling in particular are insufficient to deal adequately with the problems that arise on an ongoing basis.

Seldom in the colourful history of the Association has one tackle – Sean Cavanagh's rugby-style 'arrest' of Conor McManus in the Tyrone v Monaghan game last Saturday – caused so much controversy.

In an era in which virtually everyone has access to social media networking, it's no surprise that all and sundry are lobbing in their tuppence worth on this contentious issue.

Cavanagh, a triple All-Ireland winner who is currently playing some of the best football of his career, has been pilloried for a tackle that 99 out of 100 players would have made had they been faced with a similar situation.

What he did, he did for the team – that's the long and the short of it.

As a consequence, his very character has been assailed while his qualities as a man have been questioned – and let's remember, we are dealing with an amateur sport here.

Yet this is the same Sean Cavanagh who, shortly after his side had beaten Monaghan, took time out to admit that his opposite number Darren Hughes, one of the finest players in the country, should not have incurred the yellow card which he suffered for a quite legal challenge on him in the early stages of the game.

That sanction undoubtedly curtailed Hughes' subsequent contribution to the contest given his understandable apprehension in relation to what could have been a fateful second yellow.

Cavanagh's defence of his Ulster team colleague said more about the demeanour of the Moy man than the tackle which incurred the wrath of Brolly and has dominated every conversation of a sporting nature in this country since Saturday.

The fact of the matter is that the rules of the GAA in relation to tackling are framed in such a way that a player can escape censure for committing such a serious offence.

A yellow card? Do me a favour – players laugh off such a mild slap on the wrist.

Incurring a yellow card, indeed, is not even an irritant compared to the concession of a goal at a crucial stage of a high-intensity championship match in which the stakes are high.

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has since expressed surprise and indeed bewilderment at what he views as much too heavy emphasis on one aspect of last Saturday's game.

Harte goes further and reminds us, with considerable justification, that fouling of an even more serious nature was commonplace in gaelic football in years gone by.

He is quite right there but thankfully the GAA moved to clean up its act and while the sport is far from completely sanitised, it is certainly a much better product than it was when I was playing.

And that is just as well because nowadays the families and friends of players are certainly not going to stand idly by and see someone they love become the victim of a thuggish action out on the park.

Chances are that they would be prepared to invoke the one course of action which tends to send a shiver down the spine of the GAA – and that is litigation.

For now, though, cynicism is still prevalent within the sport and until even more firm steps are taken to root it out, the problem which besmirched Tyrone's 0-14 to 0-12 victory over Monaghan on Saturday will reoccur.

In an era in which every element of the major games is closely dissected, the pressure on players to abide by the rules and on referees to get decisions right is enormous.

But then that's how it should be – if players and officials cannot stick the heat then they should get out of the kitchen.

Efforts have been made to amend rules and various punitive measures have been put forward in recent years but these have not got the necessary backing at Congress to ensure that they can become enshrined in the Official Guide.

That is a great pity, particularly as many people within the sport including several leading administrators have been predicting that cynical fouling could have serious consequences for the image of gaelic football.

The fact that Tyrone have booked their place in the All-Ireland semi-finals should not be allowed to disguise the fact that the sport has been brought into disrepute.

Indeed, it is disappointing that after a weekend which produced four entertaining quarter-finals, the Association should continue to be making the headlines for all the wrong reasons with one tackle an all-consuming topic.

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