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Aaron Kernan: GAA needs to make sure that punishments fit the crime

Dublin's Jonny Cooper leaves the Croke Park pitch after being black carded in the All-Ireland SFC final 

THE “bin the black card’ bandwagon has been building considerable momentum since the All-Ireland finals.

But how many solutions have been offered to eradicate cynicism from our games without punishing players? The All-Ireland finals produced the high-profile cases of James McCarthy, Jonny Cooper and Lee Keegan all being removed from some of the biggest occasions of their lives.

I’ve no doubt that given what was at stake and the calibre of players mentioned, their removal from our showcase games just heightened the frustration which surrounds the black card.

Yes, we can point to statistics that there have been more goals and points scored with fewer frees conceded in Championship football since it’s introduction – and it has eradicated the majority of body checking from our game – but I feel the black card’s negatives far out weigh its positives.

For instance, when John Small grabbed Andy Moran by his ankle seven minutes into the All-Ireland final replay, preventing an almost certain score, I was in no doubt a black card would be issued.

For some reason, Maurice Deegan showed no card whatsoever and awarded a free to Mayo. Ten minutes later, Jonny Cooper’s ankle grab on Donal Vaughan seemed more innocuous than that of Small’s and in no way prevented a certain scoring opportunity, yet this time Cooper received a black card.

Having watched the replays of both incidents numerous times since, I still can’t tell the difference. It is easy to see why there is a growing frustration among players, managers and spectators alike.

I understand it’s not good to be hasty making changes, but given the GAA claim that it takes grassroots input seriously I was surprised to read in recent days that both Aogan O Fearghail and Eugene McGee confirmed the black card cannot be removed until 2020 as that is the next time Congress will discuss changes to the playing rules.

It’s obvious there are inconsistencies in the application of the black card. It’s also clear that just as some referees were previously reluctant to show a second yellow card, they are now reluctant to show the black card as per the rulebook.

It has created more headaches than its worth for referees and it is removing players from the field of play when I feel an alternative punishment is possible. I would like to see greater communication between the referee and his officials and for all current black card offences to be replaced by moving the ball forward 50 metres.

Thirteen metres is not sufficient punishment if we really want to stamp out cynical play, the majority of which happens late in games. The black card, even though it removes the offender from the field of play, still offers little advantage to the attacker. Yes, the referee may blow for a free and issue his black card but that still plays into the offender’s hand as it stops the game and allows his team-mates to get behind the ball in numbers.

If this happens around the middle of the field with seconds to play and you are desperate for one last attack, where’s the advantage? A 50-metre penalty in this case brings the ball into a manageable scoring zone and it punishes the offender’s team and not the individual.

What do you think the offender’s team-mates and management will say if his opponent kicks a free to draw or win the game? They’ll demand he attempts to tackle properly the next time instead of taking the easy way out and dragging an opponent down.

When cynically being denied a goal scoring opportunity your opponent will receive a black card and you will be awarded a free, but has it stamped out cynicism? No it hasn’t. If any black card offence occurs while interfering with a clear goalscoring opportunity a penalty should be awarded.

There’s no certainty the penalty will be scored but without it a deliberate foul in a goal-scoring position is of more advantage to the offender than the attacker. Even allowing for this, I am almost certain most defenders would still take their chances with offending and hope that the penalty will be saved rather than allowing the attacker a shot from open play.

The final change I would like to see is in relation to the deliberate stopping of quick free-kicks. At present, if an attacker does not take the free from the correct position, the referee can give a free in the opposite direction. Why should the attacker be penalised for stealing a few yards when he was the player impeded?

Even though the referee has the power to bring the ball up 13 metres, in most cases it’s of no use as your opponent will have slowed play sufficiently to allow his team to set up defensively. Again, the offender has more advantage than the victim.

I would like to see a five-metre zone around a free-kick where the attacking player can play on in any direction he chooses.

It would be harder to stop quick frees and it would it do what everyone wants by speeding the game up and taking one more decision out of the referee’s hands. None of these changes require cards, therefore easing the burden on referees. They all favour the sinned over the sinner, which in turn cuts down on cynicism and will ultimately allow us to speed up our game, which is what we all want to see.

I must remember to pass a copy of this column onto the Armagh delegates before they travel to Annual Congress in 2020.

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