Donegal’s Murphy still coming to terms with black card

Forward describes struggle with new tackle rule as a ‘yin and yang thing’

Michael Murphy, seen here in McKenna Cup action against Tyrone last Sunday, admits players are highly conscious of seeing black, or rather avoiding it. Photograph: Donna McBride/Inpho/Presseye

Michael Murphy, seen here in McKenna Cup action against Tyrone last Sunday, admits players are highly conscious of seeing black, or rather avoiding it. Photograph: Donna McBride/Inpho/Presseye

Tue, Jan 7, 2014, 01:00

Michael Murphy describes it as a “yin and yang thing”, and no, he’s not just talking about the GAA’s new black card. The Donegal football captain is also talking about what it will take win back the All-Ireland.

There is certainly an element of yin-yang to the new black card – how seemingly opposite forces are actually interdependent – given it’s all about tackling hard and soft at the same time: indeed Murphy was lucky to escape a black card when his Donegal team lost out to Tyrone in Sunday’s opening round of the Dr McKenna Cup, his awkward tackle on Shay McGuigan late on earning him the old-style yellow card instead.

Highly conscious
Murphy admits players are now highly conscious of seeing black, or rather avoiding it. Whether this will continue into the more competitive end of the season remains to be seen, because what Murphy admits too is it’s still very early days.

“Right now I think it is the back of everybody’s head,” he says. “You could hear the crowd on Sunday, after any foul, cheering for a black card.

“It is going to take a while for everybody to get educated on it, managers and referees and the like. But in fairness with us on Sunday it was used well and only used once (on Rory Kavanagh), and there was a lot of common sense.

“And I think through playing games we will soon realise what is acceptable and what is not, what is black and what is not.

“A foul is a foul but maybe the definition of a foul in Gaelic is still not out there. There is a lot of interpretation, what is yellow and not, what is black and not. With a new rule, everyone is afraid of it, and it will take a while to clear up the confusion.”

What is certain is Donegal manager Jim McGuinness didn’t tell his players going out against Tyrone on Sunday to go softer on the tackling, nor likely did any manager.

The challenge now, says Murphy, is finding the balance between soft and hard – if such a point exists.

“You can’t really be holding back,” says Murphy. “With a tackle, you want to try and win the ball back, by whatever means necessary. He (Jim) has always encouraged disciplined tackling, always encouraged us to try to win the ball back. That message hasn’t changed.

“But without a doubt you have to be thinking about it now. Going into a challenge, you are very, very careful about what you do. Obviously it might look clumsy sometimes. I suppose it is trying to work out which are clumsy and which aren’t.

Better game
“Hopefully it will lead to a better game. It’s hard to know. I suppose with the new rule, now, you want to stay on the pitch for as long as possible, and you want to try to win the ball back, so it’s trying balance that out as best you can.”

That yin and yang thing also comes into Donegal’s greater football philosophy, and finding the balance between attacking and defensive football.

Murphy suggests Donegal got that balance right in 2012, winning the All-Ireland title proof of that, but such is the constant evolution of the game they, like all teams, need to be constantly readjusting that balance.

“I suppose you look at the teams that have been successful over the last number of years they have all been well able to tackle and turn over the ball and play with a savage intensity. And then at go forward and score at the other end.

“And I suppose the game is just evolving into all players are striving to be able to do everything. There are no out-and-out defenders any more. There are no out-and-out forwards any more. It’s nearly evolving into players are similar everywhere.

Massive shift
“You look at the likes of Dublin, Tyrone, Kerry, Mayo, the way the game is evolved . . . there’s a massive shift now to an all out attacking brand of football, attacks coming from everywhere. Teams are set up defensively as well, and I think you have to evolve with all of that.

“We found that out in 2011, and 2012, you can’t just have one without the other. It is that yin and yang thing. It’s about trying to find the best way and put it out there.”

When first taking charge, McGuinness spoke about his four-year plan for Donegal, although even if this is now year four, neither Murphy nor anyone else in the Donegal team, is looking past 2014:

“Whether it’s a four-year plan, a five-year plan or a six-year plan –hopefully Jim stays for longer – but all we’re thinking about is this year. We didn’t become a bad team overnight.

“Everybody is saying there was a lack of hunger last summer, but I don’t agree with that whatsoever. We just came up short. We were every bit as hungry. But not having hands on crucial players, with injuries, in general. People try to write you off and that’s the way it happens, but it’s not going to be used as any motivation.”