New card rule is black and white: Padraig Hughes
One of Ulster's leading referees believes that teams will have to overcome what he describes as the 'fear factor' now that the black card rule will be formally introduced at the start of the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup on Sunday January 5.
Padraig Hughes, who has handled numerous top-flight fixtures, suggests that players will need time to become acclimatised to the new rule even though it was trialled in the recent O'Fiaich Cup.
"I took charge of two matches in the competition and it was clear to me that some players were maybe unwilling to commit themselves to make strong tackles," said Hughes.
"I think there was a fear factor there and this will have to be overcome. Obviously the intensity of games in the competition was not what it will be in the McKenna Cup and, of course, the passion and pace of games will be stepped up further when the league gets under way in February."
Hughes insists that the GAA is right to launch what will be a concerted crackdown on cynical play.
"It's the deliberate blocking of players trying to make runs to support the ball-carrier, it's the deliberate foot-trips – these are the things we are trying to take out of the game," said Hughes.
"There is no doubt that the GAA is doing the right thing by trying to combat these fouls.
"When the league in particular gets under way you will have the cream of the crop of all the county players in action and they will be going flat-out.
"This will be the real test of the black card rule and we as referees have to be up for this challenge, but players too must be aware of what is involved."
Hughes recalls that in the O'Fiaich Cup "six or seven" black cards were issued in low-intensity games in which the various managers were focused strongly on assessing new players.
"It will be a different story from next month on. The whole process will move up another gear. From the players' perspective, it will all be about timing their tackles properly and stopping the deliberate stuff like blocking opponents," said Hughes.
He has hailed the success of the seminars which national referees' co-ordinator Pat McEnaney has conducted to assist whistlers in implementing the new rule.
"Pat has been able to show us precisely what constitutes a deliberate body check and what is a foot trip as well as other examples of cynical play," said Hughes.
"We've been told to look out for instances of this kind of play and to take the appropriate action. The O'Fiaich Cup was my first experience of the black card rule and obviously this was a learning curve. We will all need to get more games under our belts to familiarise ourselves properly with the whole concept of the rule."
"Pat has told us that the emphasis will be on the word deliberate. We have to be sure that fouls are intentional and punish them."
Like his refereeing colleagues, Hughes will come under the spotlight when the new season swings into action against a backdrop of apprehension in relation to the introduction of the black card.
Numerous club and county officials have already expressed reservations about the measure but for now it is a question of watching and waiting to see if the new disciplinary measure does indeed help to further sanitise gaelic football.