It won’t be music to everyone’s ears that Gaelic football’s black card is going nowhere, but plans for a more precise application of the controversial sanction in 2017 are at least afoot.
GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghaíl made it clear again yesterday that the black card is here to stay, despite a championship blighted by inconsistent use by referees.
Ó Fearghaíl acknowledged those inconsistencies and spoke of the improvement required, with work ongoing behind the scenes to improve referees’ understanding and delivery of the black card.
Match officials themselves accept that inconsistent use of the punishment is proving deeply frustrating for players and supporters, but are committed to improvement.
All-Ireland football final replay referee Maurice Deegan claimed that the black card, brought in to curb cynical play, has ultimately been a success, even if it requires fine tuning.
“I think it’s been very positive, if I’m being honest,” said Deegan. “I know the media – some of them are against it, some of them aren’t. But it has cleaned up the game. Let’s be honest, the body collide is gone.
“That was a serious thing in the game, players being taken out of it altogether. There are inconsistencies within the black card with referees and that’s something that we have to work on; the pull down, the hand trip, all those type of things.
“They just have to be looked at and it’s up to us to fine tune it.”
Seán Walsh, chairman of the national referee development committee and a GAA presidential candidate, said he was confident that there would be an improvement in the consistency of black card application in 2017.
“Obviously refs in some games are pulling players and refs in other games are not pulling them,” said Walsh. “That aggravates players, it aggravates team managers who see one thing and then the other. We are conscious ourselves that it is happening and it is our aim for 2017 to address that.
“I’m confident in the fact that we’re trying very, very hard with the referees because they’re very anxious themselves to make sure they do it better. That’s the only confidence I have, because obviously I won’t be in the middle of the field blowing the whistle myself.
“But I do know from the work that they do that every one of them would love to see that consistency in relation to black cards improved.”
Walsh acknowledged that referees had been slow to dish out black cards for remonstrating with match officials, one of the reasons the sanction was initially brought in.
“We have clearly shown that [to referees] all through the summer where a number of incidents would have happened and they went unpunished, and I can tell you that they won’t go unpunished in ’17,” said Walsh.
If it sounds like fighting talk it is because there is an obvious desire among officials to make the black card work, despite a faltering start. But what if we’re still having this conversation in 12 months time, will it be time to bin the black card at that stage?
“I think there won’t be a question mark over the black card, in so far as it is serving a purpose for what it was brought in for,” responded Walsh. “We can’t be in a position next year where we’re saying ‘there’s still inconsistencies’. Maybe there will be inconsistencies but we have to limit them, that’s the challenge. I would say that the black card is here and the black card is here to stay. That’s the message I’m giving very loud and clear.”
Walsh was speaking at the launch of a new referees handbook designed to explain and simplify the playing rules. He was joined by All-Ireland hurling final referee Brian Gavin and both were in agreement that rule book knowledge within the GAA community overall is poor.
“I was at the All-Ireland [football] final replay this year and you hear people around you shouting for black cards and you just wonder what planet they are on,” said Gavin. “The understanding is not out there with the general public and this book will definitely help.”