Ireland Rules manager Paul Earley makes strong case for black card proposal

At launch of Rules Series manager fields questions about Football Review issues

Ireland International Rules manager Paul Earley with selectors Séamus McCarthy and Tony Scullion at the launch of the Series at  Croke Park yesterday. Photograph: Inpho

Ireland International Rules manager Paul Earley with selectors Séamus McCarthy and Tony Scullion at the launch of the Series at Croke Park yesterday. Photograph: Inpho


The GAA is in danger of surrendering the chance to rid Gaelic football of cynical fouling "for once and for all" if the so-called black card proposals are not approved at this weekend's Congress in Derry.

That’s according to former Roscommon footballer Paul Earley, who found himself in a sort of compromised position yesterday: in Croke Park to outline his new role as Ireland manager for the International Rules Series with Australia, Earley ended up fielding more questions about his role with the Football Review Committee (FRC), who have identified five cynical fouls that will result in the offending player been shown a black card, then automatically replaced.

“Am I concerned? Yeah,” admitted Earley. “My concern is that anywhere where we’ve been able to present the proposals they have been judged on their merits, have been well received. I think in some cases they’re not being judged on their merits, that’s what concerns me.

“The reality is, and I’m absolutely convinced about this, is the black card will help to eliminate cynical fouling from the game. I think anybody who has a genuine interest in the game, wants to get rid of the cynicism that’s in the game, should look at that very closely before they make a decision. Two-thirds majority is a big number to get, and we know some counties have gone against it. That’s disappointing.”

Earley is part of the nine-man FRC committee, chaired by Eugene McGee, and has travelled to various counties over the last few months, presenting in more detail the aims of the proposals, and remains adamant this is what the grassroots of the game is crying out for. However, with Donegal now joining counties such as Antrim, Down, Tyrone, Armagh, Fermanagh, Limerick, Cork, Westmeath, Tipperary and Clare opposed to the black card proposals it’s becoming increasing hard to see how the two-thirds majority will be met.

Cynical fouling
Should they fail then Earley is clear about the message that will send out: “What that will say is that cynical fouling is okay in our game, accepted, and tolerated. The reality is, at the moment, you could have 40 yellow cards, if 10 subs come on, or 40 different people deliberately pull down a player, and still stay on the field. The sanction at the moment is no deterrent.

“If we’re genuine, want to get rid of cynical fouling, and the vast majority of people who contributed to our survey, spoke to us, put it the top of their list, then let’s do something about it, for once and for all.”

What is not so clear, he accepted, is the claim some counties go as far as to “choreograph” their fouling, and which Tyrone manager Mickey Harte last weekend claimed was actually impossible. “I’m not sure how easy it is to choreograph fouling, in all honest,” agreed Earley, “because players are out there, playing a fast-paced game. But I do think a player has a decision to make, and he can foul somebody cynically, and realise, look, I’m only going to get a yellow card for this. If that’s the case he is more likely to do it.”

Final pitch
The FRC will make one presentation to Congress on Saturday, before the vote is taken, and Earley hopes that might swing the vote in their favour: “When you do present it, go through it all logically, show the examples, it’s funny, it’s never an issue. Everyone says, ‘yeah, it makes absolute sense.’

“But I hope too the other proposals don’t get lost, because we do have proposals to make the game easier for referees, without changing the game radically, like stopping players taking frees. Also the mark, or bringing the ball forward 30 metres (for opposing teams not releasing the ball), the clean pick off the ground. All those are being done for the right reasons, with good evidence of support for why we're doing it.”

It so happened one of Earley’s selectors with Ireland, Derry’s 1993 All-Ireland winner Tony Scullion, is also a member of the FRC, and he made an equally impassioned plea that Congress gives the black card proposal their rightful consideration.

“We can wipe this under the carpet, forget about it, say ‘our game is great’, or with a few wee tweaks we can make it better. Because we have sat down and analysed 60 games on DVD and it was the stand-out fact that cynical play is taking place.

“You don’t have to have a long memory either, if you were at matches last weekend you’ll see what I’m talking about.

“But I would be slightly worried the common man on the ground is not getting a say . . . it will be all the worse for Gaelic football if this motion is not passed.”