Flash the card at macho critique of GAA move to tackle cynicism

It is hard to argue against a system that at least tries to sideline the hatchet men

Not only should hurling retain red and yellow cards, it should also adopt the black variety. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Not only should hurling retain red and yellow cards, it should also adopt the black variety. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Mon, Feb 17, 2014, 09:00

Cynicism is unattractive. The cynic never gets the girl; unless it’s Humphrey Bogart who’s concealing sentimentality beneath thin-skinned irascibility.

Girls love that shtick. But the real thing, the nasty malevolent stuff, is ugly, distasteful even, something that nevertheless still does not manage to dilute the suspicion that no matter how cynical you get, it’s impossible to keep up.

Girls like Kenneth Egan. He’s told us so, often, ordinarily a questionable move, but understandable, even necessary, in the Olympic silver medallist’s account of how he has battled addiction. And the impact of celebrity on someone possessed of considerable public patter while simultaneously struggling with private pain.

So, contradictory as it may seem for someone who “didn’t know much about politics or anything to do with politics”, to be flying the private enterprise flag in flush Neilstown, it’s hard not to indulge Egan. A man clearly going along for the ride in the upcoming local elections.

In fact there’s such a notable absence of cynicism in boxing’s very own Bogie that you’d fear for him now that he’s embroiled in the real Machiavellian deal. The one not so long ago that flogged the “change” line before resorting to the age-old stroke of pushing sporting profile in pursuit of electoral success.

What Egan will quickly discover is that the political world makes the ring look like a kindergarten. In sport change is a word that can be both noun and verb. In the real world of first-preference expediency, it’s just a soundbite, no action required, unless it’s to change horses. The contrast is sport’s glory: it sells the concept of fair play. Sometimes, remarkably, it even manages to achieve it.

Cleaning up

That’s what’s been so great about the new black-card system in gaelic football and its proposed introduction to hurling. Fundamentally, its heart is in the right place. It is anti-cynic. And it works, or at least it has worked in the early skirmishes of 2014, according to many people who had almost given up on the systematic pull-and-drag that football had become.

This is a genuine feel-good story, a win win: for once, the GAA has tinkered with the rules succeeded, in terms of the letter of the law. But most importantly of all, its spirit. Skill, imagination and athleticism are being released from the shackles of talentless hatchet men.

Cue joyful group hugs all round, right?

Well, apparently, no. Grumbling about – and here’s that word – “physicality” being removed from football remains persistent: diabolical pictures painted of near-balletic refinement on the paircs of Ireland, with a polite after-you deference to the power of a black card resulting in the emasculation of the game: more Billy Elliot than Billy Morgan.

And now hurling is in on it. Not on the black card obviously. Hurling doesn’t need that. In fact it’s such a sporting paragon that Eddie Keher has proposed no need for the game to have even red and yellow cards, that they only produce cynicism and cheating in terms of trying to get players sent off. Keher has used rugby’s favourite “p” word also and said cards are at variance with the “manliness” of hurling. In this he has been supported by Kilkenny manager Brian Cody.

At the risk of unleashing my inner-Elton, that, boys, is a flaming tower of fairy-lit macho crap.

When Keher says hurling has never been a cynical game, he’s right. By definition no game is cynical. But there are plenty of cynics in every game, supposed hard men willing to whip like slave-drivers even if the ball is at the other end of the pitch. Such characters are more than happy to use a hurley like a baton and to trash-talk an opponent into rabid retaliation. In short, those willing to stretch the rules, and snap them, to their own benefit.

Hurling playing catchup
How can anyone logically argue against a system that at least tries to sideline the hatchet men, never mind one that

seems to have a decent shout of succeeding? There isn’t one thing the black card does that is not already against the letter and spirit of the law. All it does is deter. It actually works. So what’s the problem?

Not only should hurling retain red and yellow cards, it should also adopt the black variety. The “physicality” removed from the game will be of the cynical variety; you know, stuff that’s against the rules already – deliberate dragging down, tripping, body collisions, verbal abuse of team-mates, opponents or the referee.

Sure, mistakes will be made, maybe even as many as occur under existing hurling rules. But to argue that players are incapable of successfully adapting to a tweak in the rule book that theoretically outlaws such activities without always implementing those same rules is to presume they are all as stupid as some of them are cynical.

In reality hurlers, footballers, any sportspeople, are more than able to bend to the regulatory reality around them and it beggars belief to see some cod-macho “when-men-were-men” retro-nostalgia for a reality that could glorify dirt. And that often left referees in an unenviable vague no-man’s land with too much emphasis placed on their individual interpretative abilities.

The GAA has stumbled upon a way of removing some of the cynicism from their beautiful games and changing them for the better. How can anyone argue against it?

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