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Black card rule has improved the game, but grey areas need ironed out

By Declan Bogue

Gaelic Games is blighted by the practice of cheating, just as much as any other sport.

It's important to state that early doors, because there is bountiful waffle about Gaelic football and hurling possessing an integrity that is beyond most other sports, with soccer a dog-eared example.

And it was a particularly sneaky type of cheating that the black card was introduced to address. By and large, it has rid the game of a few different scourges. We will come back to that in a second.

For all that, when you sit opposite Tyrone boss Mickey Harte and he is expressing himself in that clear-eyed, logical way of his, it is hard to argue against his point.

He felt incensed enough about the black card last week to say he would 'bin it', right there and then. After all, he had lost two key players in the first-half of the Ulster final, both to cases that were highly debatable.

When it came to voting in the black card, delegates at the 2013 Congress in Derry were shown multiple incidents of players being dragged down or tripped with the hand or foot. In that show-reel, each example was clear-cut and definite and created the correct impression that fouls in Gaelic Games were easily detectable.

But the examples did not show the incidents from the referee's point of view. What if he was running at the time, trying to keep his balance and was momentarily blinded by a player running in front of his path, or even if the protagonists were turned away from him?

And here's the kicker - you can watch a foot trip on television multiple times, but miss it once in real time with a dozen things going on around you, and all of a sudden you have a black card storm.

Harte is right when he says the black card should have been field-tested and he points out that a number of different scenarios were not considered.

In the first year of operation, Tyrone faced Monaghan. Darren McCurry and Darren Hughes were both given black cards, and both successfully appealed them.

Nowadays, you cannot appeal until you accrue three in a calendar year. Was it a source of embarrassment to GAA chiefs that they couldn't make the charges stick?

And you cannot discount the sense of injustice Tyrone would have felt at the time of the introduction of the black card. Although the decision had already been made at Congress in February 2013, that summer Tyrone were involved in a number of drag-down offences, reaching the low point of Sean Cavanagh hauling down Conor McManus in the All-Ireland quarter-final, prompting that furious response from you know who.

For all that, the blight of the third-man tackle has gone. Scoring averages have gone up. The skilful man is rewarded. So much of the card is up for interpretation, but it has done the game some service.

It was a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but that's what was needed then. What is needed now is for the rule to be refined, and the introduction of video evidence.

Paraic Duffy has said there is little appetite for video evidence. Matthew Donnelly, Cathal McShane, and Pete McGrath after Aidan O'Shea's dive in Castlebar, might feel differently.

Belfast Telegraph


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