Joe Kernan: Referees must get a grip and tackle tackling
When is a tackle not a tackle? Ninety per cent of the time, it would seem, judging by the number of occasions on which referees are currently penalising players.
We are still in a relatively low gear in terms of the 2011 action yet there is disturbing evidence to suggest that petty fouling, over-exuberant challenges and the almost mandatory helping of cynicism will conspire to tarnish the season.
Already some of the leading managers including Kieran McGeeney (Kildare), Conor Counihan (Cork) and Liam Bradley (Antrim) have publicly voiced their concerns in relation to what they feel is the abuse of the tackle law.
More pertinently perhaps they — and we can take it the vast majority of their managerial colleagues as well — share the view that now is the time to try and strive for uniformity in interpretation of what is one of the most crucial playing rules of gaelic football.
Far too often already this year, even allowing for the fact that we have had only a limited diet of matches, the tackle law has been flouted to such an extent the players themselves now appear unsure as to just what is acceptable when they attempt to dispossess an opponent.
And this is what is causing frustration and agitation among managers many of whom are even unsure as to whether their players are being properly coached in tackling given the diversity of interpretation of the law on the part of referees.
The good old-fashioned shoulder-to-shoulder charge appears almost defunct, jersey-pulling is still rife and slapping or flailing at the man in possession seems to be rampant.
This type of fouling is designed to slow the game down, to allow a team under pressure to get players back behind the ball and to disrupt the rhythm of the side in possession.
As such, it should be punished much more severely — yet what do we see happening? Trivial offences are blown up by over-fussy referees, some players get away with repeated offences when instead they should be shown a yellow card at least and cynical fouls, such as a player falling on top of another player when this can clearly be avoided, are not punished with any degree of severity.
Too often too for my liking it seems that referees turn a blind eye to time-wasting tactics. And many of them are still being ‘conned’ by players who are experts in diving or subtly dragging an opponent down — but earning the free for their own side.
It’s high time that managers, players and referees — or at least a representative group from each of these bodies — met to seek clarification on just what is acceptable and what is not.
It seems that because some dubious practice is ongoing it becomes part of the game but that should not be the case. Spectators pay good money to see matches — they do not want to see thuggery, play-acting or jaundiced refereeing.
Coaches and managers have a clear responsibility to ensure that players are properly versed in the art of tackling but equally it is incumbent upon referees to apply the laws fairly and uniformly.
The sooner that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet the better — the season will be hotting up over the next number of weeks, matches will become even more intense and the pressure will mount.
There are far too many discrepancies in the application of some of the laws, particularly the rule governing the tackle, for my liking.
I am all for physicality remaining as a central tenet of gaelic football.
Indeed, the physical aspect is one of the great attractions of the sport. But players who foul repeatedly and engage in cynical acts that are designed to disrupt opponents’ strategy have no place on the field of play.
Skill should be allowed to flourish but no one expects defenders to smooth a path for opposing forwards.
Their brief will always be to try and halt their progress — but we must ensure that this is done by legal means only.