GAA Congress needs to address culture of indiscipline, not indulge it
Proposals can improve Gaelic football by no longer allowing cynicism to be an advantage
Referee Cathal O'Hagan during the recent game between Derry and Longford. Will referees be issuing black cards next season? Photograph: Inpho/Presseye/Lorcan Doherty
This coming weekend the GAA’s annual Congress will take place unusually early in Derry. This is partly to recognise the city’s status as City of Culture although it’s not quite clear what cultural aspect of congress makes it such a catch for the civic celebrations.
There will be though, appropriately in the circumstances, a major determination on the future culture of football when the package of measures brought forward by the Football Review Committee will be debated.
Despite the general praise for the work of the FRC and in particular the scope of its consultation, one of its key recommendations – the introduction of a black card for cynical fouling, which would require the departure of the offending footballer and his substitution by a replacement – is by no means certain of adoption.
To date four Ulster counties, Fermanagh, Tyrone, Down and Antrim, as well as Cork have come out against it. There are no major surprises in that line-up although Down wasn’t entirely expected but supporters of the reforms remain positive about the chances of their acceptance with three days to go before the vote.
It hardly feels like four years since we were at this point but indeed it is. In 2009 GAA president Liam O’Neill, then chair of the Disciplinary Task Force which proposed a number of measures, including a version of the current black card, to combat cynicism put the argument forcefully when urging support for his proposals.
“You can go back to the clubs and schools, look into the eyes of children and tell them that if they work hard and learn these skills, we will protect you. Voting against is to go back to the same children and say we took the easy way out and shirked our responsibility.”
[/CROSSHEAD]Answering the charge that the proposals removed physicality from the games, then Derry chair Séamus McCloy asked: “What is manly about pulling down and tripping opponents?”
As is well known the vote fell short in that 64 per cent, rather than the required 66.6, supported the motions. Given the support from the floor that day, it’s sobering to reflect that it took this long for the matter to be heard again.
There is a core issue at stake here. Are gamesmanship and tactical or cynical fouling negative elements in the game? Nearly everyone (although sometimes you can’t be sure) would say they are. The FRC consultation process, which took in the views of 4,000 people, highlighted such breaches of rule as among the top dislikes in the game. Accepting that, how do you discourage their practice?
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has put on record his unhappiness at the FRC proposals on the basis that these fouls are already adequately punished. Three times on Saturday night, players on his team were shown yellow cards for calculated fouls in the closing minutes, as they defended a one-point lead against Dublin.