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Gaelic football can 'counter' ills by using yellow card properly

If Gaelic football would use its yellow card correctly, even with the rules as bad as they are, a lot of its cynical ills could still be rectified 
Picture by Colm O’Reilly

YOU know you’ve become detached from soccer when you can sit and watch an FA Cup final and not make a mute when Jesse Lingard fires that winner into the top corner.

A boyhood Manchester United fan, an occasional visitor to Old Trafford, they were my first love. Long before I discovered the GAA, I’d discovered Paul Scholes.

Over the last couple of years – maybe it’s been the Louis van Gaal reign that’s done it – I have found myself less and less interested in their fortunes.

Missing Match of the Day doesn’t cost me a second thought. I wouldn’t particularly have minded missing Saturday’s game, but the alternative was housework, and even the current United side beat that.

The one thing that detachment gives me is the ability to look upon it with a relatively neutral eye. I, like the rest of the country, could see that referee Mark Clattenburg did Crystal Palace no favours in the first half.

On the whole, the Champions League final referee had a poor game.

His failure to implement the advantage rule on three separate occasions stunted Palace attacks, the first of which was very likely to result in a goal had he hesitated for just one second.

What he did do, though, was book Chris Smalling for pulling down Conor Wickham. And when the United defender committed another indiscretion to stop a counter-attack in extra-time, he rightly got another yellow card.

When James McArthur pulled down match-winner Lingard early in the second period of extra-time, stopping a United counter-attack at source, he too received a yellow card.

Even on a bad day for the referee, when it comes to halting counter-attacks, the rules of soccer are so clear and obvious that it is quite easy to implement them.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said of Gaelic football.

Tomás Ó Sé has always been against the black card and voiced his opinion on The Sunday Game again following Tyrone’s comprehensive dismissal of Derry on Sunday.

Unlike the FA Cup final, the rain-soaked Ulster Championship clash was a game in which referee David Coldrick had zero impact on the result.

You wouldn’t have expected the referee in a Derry v Tyrone game to play the part of an extra. Whether that’s testament to the Meath man or an indictment of the game’s listlessness you wouldn’t be sure.

He certainly didn’t get every call right. On the hour mark on Sunday, Gareth McKinless went past Colm Cavanagh and was tripped by the Moy man’s hand.

Now, it didn’t matter that he wasn’t black carded. But the fact that he wasn’t even yellow carded highlights the problem that Gaelic football faces.

The black card was introduced to combat cynicism. And in the erosion of the third man tackle, it has had an impact.

I wasn’t an advocate for its introduction – far from it – but I do believe it would be a mistake to take it back out of the rule book at this stage.

It would be better rewritten to reflect its reality. Leave the black card for blocking an off-the-ball runner but, to paraphrase Kate Winslet circa 1997, only that.

Since its introduction three years ago, “black card ref” has overtaken “toooooo lonnnnggg” as the most common cry from supporters at Gaelic football matches.

But for fear of ruining games altogether, most referees have developed their own interpretation of the rule. That applies to even the very top level.

And for players, that inconsistency is incredibly frustrating.

Pulling a man down should never have been an offence worthy of ending someone’s game there and then. Colm Cavanagh should have been black carded under the current rules, but it was far from an offence that would merit a dismissal.

It might not be a red card for the team, but it’s a red card for the player.

In recent years, we’ve had hurling men calling for the abolition of the yellow card in their sport.

In Gaelic football, it might as well not exist.

Referees at every level do not use the yellow card properly. Had they done so, there would never have been any need or any calls for a black card to be brought in.

Rule 5.5 of the playing rules says that it is a yellow card offence to “hold an opponent with the hand(s).”

Often you give referees a bye-ball in light of how woefully inconsistent and inadequate the rulebook is. But from the point of view of pulling a man back, the rule is there in black and white.

How often do you see a forward chasing back and giving a simple tug of the jersey to stop a counter-attack? The referee blows the free, the offender runs on and the military defensive system has the few seconds it needs to get in place.

A lazy tackle to stop a counter-attack is a fairly easy thing to recognise. Sometimes it’s disguised as an attempt to tackle the ball, but the key element is that the tackle comes from behind.

I’ve yet to see anyone tackle legally in that way. All they do is engage the ball-carrier and commit a foul.

Those tackles that stop the counter-attack should be an automatic yellow card offence. Every. Single. Time.

Would it reduce the physicality of the game? In a sense, yes. But ‘physicality’ in the GAA sense is supposed to mean hard, robust, strong.

There’s nothing ‘physical’ about reaching into a tackle from behind a man on the run, knowing that the only success you will gain is not winning the ball, but stopping the opposition breaking out at pace.

You don’t see those tackles inside the defensive 45’ because the player making them knows it will be a foul, every single time. But they’re quite happy to make the tackle up the field to stop the break.

Soccer has it right. It doesn’t matter where on the field it happens, or when. The second an attacker is goalside and is fouled in any manner, the yellow card comes out.

You will see an element of cynicism in the game but it’s appropriately dealt with. Chris Smalling’s foul on Conor Wickham never merited the end of his FA Cup final.

A yellow card was the appropriate punishment, just as a red was when he did the same thing a second time late on.

If Gaelic football would use its yellow card correctly, even with the rules as bad as they are, a lot of its cynical ills could still be rectified.

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