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Ulster forwards strike black card bonanza

So, the McKenna Cup has been long taken care of. Remember all those end-of-year pieces yours truly along with practically every other GAA writer suggested that January would be mostly given over to managers and players moaning about the effect of the black card, how the world was going to cave in? And how one player even went as far to say that Gaelic football would be dead within a few years?

Didn't happen.

And then the league. We thought the added pressure would lead to more blacks handed out and even more criticism?

No, siree. At this stage, it's time to crunch the numbers in a local sense and see what affect it has actually had on Ulster - the home of the blanket defence, body-checking and pull-downs, remember.

So far, we have yet to hear anyone present a compelling case that the black card has not improved the game beyond measure. At a recent social gathering one man came at me saying that there is no defending in the game anymore.

What he really meant, although he might not have understood the nuances of it, was that there was a decrease in the sneaky, lazy stuff that defences deployed to halting attacking play.

He also commented that the scorelines are ridiculous now. Colm O'Rourke had something similar in The Sunday Independent over the weekend, venturing the theory that there is nothing wrong with a 0-10 to 0-8 scoreline.

O'Rourke is not entirely wrong, but suggesting that there is an ideal scoreline that games should finish in order to guarantee that the game is questionable at best, dogmatic at worst.

How could that trump a game that finishes 2-17 to 3-15, scorelines in the higher reaches of the imagination that we have become used to seeing over the past few months?

The need for restraining ourselves in terms of limiting the scores in a game of Gaelic football speaks of repression and denying ourselves one of the finer sights in the game - namely a player able to play a one-two with a team-mate without being body-checked off the ball, before launching a shot from 45 metres over the bar.

You will see on the table attached to this column, that the arguments ring hollow.

In 2012 and '13, Antrim were operating in Division Three. They scored a total of 102 and 91 points respectively.

This year, they only managed two wins - at home to Waterford and London, yet chalked up 121 points. That's significant.

Armagh also outstripped previous years. So too did Cavan, Down, Monaghan and Tyrone.

The biggest leaps were by Donegal - who added an incredible 40 points to last years' total, and Derry at 37.

The one anomaly on the table is Fermanagh, who hit 15-130 in their Division Four campaign of 2012. But 9-23 of that was against Kilkenny footballers, and they played eight games. Take that game out of it and they scored 111 points in seven regulation games; three more than the following years' campaign in Division three, but still 21 points short of this years' total.

If the amount of scores has risen, there also has been a slight shift in the nature of scores. For a few years there, coaches were fond of the salient observation that forwards were the new backs and backs were the new forwards.

The reason for this came about with teams trying to pick a hole in massed defence and sweeper systems, only finding a way through when a defender would join the attack and create an overlap.

Take 2012. James Loughrey amassed 3-7 for Antrim in 2012. Cavan's Mark McKeever landed 1-4, Sean Leo McGoldrick boosted Derry's tally with 1-3, Anthony Thompson accounted for the same figure for Donegal and Liam Doyle chipped in with 1-6 for Down. Conor Quigley 0-7 for Fermanagh, and Peter Harte with an impressive 5-5 for Tyrone.

Or 2013; 1-8 for Fermanagh's Tommy McElroy, 0-9 for Harte, among other impressive tallies.

This year, the flow of the game and the rule changes have freed forwards from their shackles.

Michael Pollock beat last year's tally by three points. Jamie Clarke topped his by 17. Eugene Keating featured in four games in 2013, four games this campaign, scored nine points more.

Mark Lynch had license to attack last year and grabbed 0-4 by driving from deep.

This year he has played in midfield and centre-forward and even discounting his nine points at the weekend, had already 2-33 to put on his footballing CV.

The Championship will be different. It always is and there remains some issues that need to be tidied up.

But for now, Gaelic football is in a brave new age. Hallelujah!

Belfast Telegraph