GAA Football

Black card's 'greater good' can't be overlooked - Jarlath Burns

The black card has been controversial since its introduction in 2014
Picture by Seamus Loughran

THE chairman of the GAA’s standing committee on playing rules says the “greater good” brought about by the black card cannot be overlooked following a summer of controversial decisions.

David Coldrick’s decision to end the games of two Tyrone players, Mattie Donnelly and Cathal McShane, in the first-half of last month’s Ulster final dominated the headlines after the Red Hands’ win over Donegal.

The same official’s call to end Robbie Kiely’s All-Ireland semi-final after just nine minutes last Sunday, leaving the Tipperary centre-back close to tears coming off the pitch, have led to growing calls for the abolition of the rule.

The black card was introduced in January 2014 to combat cynicism in Gaelic football, but there have been question marks over the consistency of its application in the three seasons since. But Jarlath Burns, who heads the committee that constantly reviews the playing rules of Gaelic football, believes its introduction forced Gaelic football coaches to teach players how to tackle correctly.

“I suppose, when you watch a highly-talented young fella like Robbie Kiely walking off the field in tears, it definitely tugs at the heart strings. But you have to look at the greater good it has brought about,” he said.

”The introduction of the black card permeated right onto the training field, where coaches started to actually coach players how to tackle and how not to foul. In any training session I’ve ever seen, the backs always get the benefit of a training match, or backs and forwards. The forward nearly has to be shot dead to get a free. 

"That just gives bad habits to backs. But that culture completely changed at training and coaches started coaching how to tackle and why you should never pull a player down. Statistics show that that culture has plummeted. The number of people being pulled down has plummeted. As a result, the number of scores has gone up, which is also helped by the square ball rule and the fact that teams are practising long range points.”

Tyrone's Mattie Donnelly was controversially black carded in July's Ulster final 

While helping reduce instances of bodychecking in the game, one thing the black card has not eradicated is the culture of players ‘taking one for the team’ with cynical fouls late in games. Burns feels that, as well as the individual, teams should be punished in such instances.

“If you look at the last 10 minutes of the game, there’s people taking one for the team - pulling a man down and taking a black card," Burns said.

“It’s no harm for the team to suffer. If that means a team has to play the last 10 minutes with 14 men, that means the culture of taking one for the team stops because the team suffers.”

Central Council will meet in November to finalise a date for the introduction of the ‘mark’, which was passed at congress earlier this year, having been proposed by the playing rules committee. Reports had suggested the decision would be reviewed, but Burns told The Irish News the discussion would be over when, and not if, it would be implemented.

“I would like to see it in on January 1, but you have to show respect to the implementing body and, if they feel they need a wee bit longer to embed it into counties, then I won’t go against that.”

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