Black Card Fiasco Marring Championship in Early Stages
We are only in the first week of the summer and already the dreaded ‘Black Card’ is front and centre in all topics in relation to the GAA championship.
Monaghan’s Kieran Hughes and Wexford’s Daithi Waters have already been the recipients of very soft black cards, although it has to be said that referees were applying the rules to the letter of the law. On the other hand, we have seen the likes of Kevin McKernan and Donegal minor, Jack McKelvey getting black cards for blatantly fouling opponents who were through on goal, which has now become a regular tactic for a winning team.
Speaking on RTE today after the Ulster Championship clash between Armagh and Down, Joe Brolly once again slated the black card and highlighted that it is now obligatory for a defender to sacrifice himself in that situation, when the only punishment is that you are substituted.
Brolly is obviously campaigning for a tougher sanction for this type of foul and it is ironic that it was Brolly’s denigration of Sean Kavanagh that led to the introduction of the black card in the first place. It is often said that tough cases make bad laws and this is further highlighted by the inadequacy of the black card, which is far too severe for the likes of incidents involving Hughes and Waters and nowhere near severe enough for what McKernan did at the end of the Down match.
If, as Brolly suggested, that the punishment was a red card and a suspension then the chances of a player ‘sacrificing’ himself would surely be reduced. But the next problem comes with the interpretation of that rule, as referees all seem to interpret the black card differently. In today’s game, for example, McKernan did not deny a clear goal scoring opportunity, but he did deny the possibility of creating one. By taking down the Armagh attacker, he ensured that not only was the move stopped, but he wasted an inordinate amount of time, as scuffles broke out and the Down players were ready to reassemble their blanket defence. His punishment for ensuring that Armagh couldn’t get the coveted equaliser was that he was substituted, which is hardly fair and that is why the black card is simply not working.
When you consider that McKernan was given the same punishment as Daithi Waters in the Leinster Championship, it really makes a mockery of the whole thing. Waters missed out on the entire game for an innocuous coming together with a Carlow player and his black card had a big impact on the match. McKernan simply missed a couple of minutes of his match and it impacted positively on his team. There is no way that the two can be compared and yet they both received the same punishment.
What is really worrying about this situation is that we are only in the early stages of the championship and that it is highly likely that a big match is going to be decided by a black card call. It is unfair that referees are being asked to implement a rule surrounded by so much ambiguity and it is time to rid the game of the black card and have referees send players off if they are deemed to be hauling players down as the game draws to a close. The black card was supposed to rid the game of cynical fouling like that but most supporters will tell you that it has only encouraged it. Go to any game at any level now and the winning team will be under orders to haul opponents down high up the pitch. Subs are sitting waiting to replace black card recipients and managers are actually ordering players to make sure that teams do not get a chance to run the ball.
The GAA must be commended for trying this initiative but they now have to acknowledge that it doesn’t work and that something else needs to be tried. Because if we don’t, we’re going to have a summer of pundits talking about black cards, rather than sensational scores.