Bright new dawn as spectre of black card strikes fear in defenders

On the surface, last weekend’s full-time scores suggest black-card system is working as intended

Dublin’s Eoghan O’Gara scores his side’s second goal against Kerry in the opening game of the Division One campaign at Croke Park. Photograph: Inpho

Dublin’s Eoghan O’Gara scores his side’s second goal against Kerry in the opening game of the Division One campaign at Croke Park. Photograph: Inpho

Sat, Feb 8, 2014, 01:00

The league season has started at one hundred miles an hour. In Croke Park, All-Ireland champions Dublin carried their mantra that goals wins games as they took their bow under the theatre lights, putting two past Kerry and duly winning.

Up in Ulster, Tyrone and Derry produced three goals between them in a fast, high-scoring game which finished in a gripping draw 1-15 to 2-12 draw. That set the mood for Sunday’s fare. By late afternoon, the radio bulletins were fizzing with eye-catching full-time scores, a world away from the drowsy fare normally associated with the early days of the league.

Donegal registered 2-19 in coasting past Laois. In Division four, Tipperary put 2-24 past Carlow. Wickow notched up 3-13 against Connacht finalists London. Newbridge hosted an out-an-out duel between Kildare and Mayo which finished 2-19 to 2-18 in favour of the home team.

Down in Navan in the Division Two tie of the day, the scoring was off the charts: Galway fired 4-18 and still lost against a Meath team whose final tally of 3-18 came from play. In addition, the Meath men created enough chances to register 16 wides.

What was going on?

The obvious conclusion was that the spectre of the black card served to strike the fear of God into defenders across the country. Although James Horan, the Mayo manager, was pleased with the performance of his team he made the point that defenders are afraid to defend under the current officiating rules. And the burst of nationwide scoring suggested forwards everywhere had sensed that uncertainty and were taking full advantage.

Highest score
In Wicklow, Leighton Glynn registered the highest score of the weekend, hitting 3-3. Afterwards, the respective managers agreed it was a bit unusual. “Players are certainly adjusting . . . it is new and they don’t really know where they stand,” says Wicklow’s Harry Murphy “You can see players are inclined not to be tackling. Our game was good and tight but I felt the intensity was lacking a small bit and the players were that bit worried. You don’t know how a referee is going to handle it. Black cards can be produced whereas before you might have felt you’d get away with one or two things because he didn’t want to send a player off early.

“The black card will probably take the pressure off referees in that way – he knows the team won’t suffer if he issues a black card. I was talking to Paul Goggins afterwards and he said they gave us a lot more room than what they generally did. They haven’t been beaten like that for a couple of years. But I think that was more down to Leighton than anything.”

It is true that even in the cut and thrust of championship games, Glynn is capable of going supernova. On Sunday, that was clear benefit to Wicklow. But it also highlights the problem if someone like Glynn commits a black-card foul.

“Yeah, Leighton is difficult to mark at the best of times,” Murphy says. “There were four black cards in our game and neither team really suffered. If we lose the likes of Leighton or if a top team loses one of their best players later in the year, it will have a big repercussion. Still, it is making for high-scoring games. London opened us up as well a few times and you could see our defenders at the same mindset. We lost Paul Ellis to a very simple one. On Saturday night, I thought the Tyrone chap who got the line was a bit unlucky. Everyone is trying to find their feet.”

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