Burning Issue: Is cynical fouling ruining Gaelic Football? 10 years ago

Burning Issue: Is cynical fouling ruining Gaelic Football?

Thanks to Sean Cavanagh's rugby tackle, and Joe Brolly's outraged response, cynical fouling is the hot topic in GAA. Is it ruining a glorious game or is it a huge fuss over nothing? Two JOE's argue the point.



JOE.IESean Nolan says... it is, and the black card and more can't come soon enough.

Gaelic Football, by its very nature, is prone to rule breaking. An extra step here, an open handed pass there, a shoulder not quite squared up, a pick up off the ground, the basics of the game are very easy to break and most, if not all of the above rules get broken in every game at every level.

Most of these are not major issues, and games will be rarely decided on such matters. But another rule, one repeatedly flouted, is very serious and damaging to the fabric of the game. Perhaps it is that ethos of letting things go, a trait very prevalent in all aspects of Irish life including Gaelic games, has led to the current situation but the scourge of cynical fouling, professional fouling in other words, is making the spectacle of Gaelic football hard to watch.


We have to, I suppose, focus on the Cavanagh incident first. Monaghan’s Conor McManus was clear through on goal at a crucial point in the game and the Tyrone man just hauled him to the ground, denying his opponent, to borrow the soccer parlance, ‘a clear goal scoring opportunity’. In soccer, that is a sending off offence but as it stands in GAA all the referee could do on Saturday was issue a yellow, and he did.

Cavanagh was playing to the rules, if not the spirit of the game, but he was not the only offender in recent weeks, just the most high profile. In the previous round Tyrone closed out the game against Meath with a series of deliberate fouls, one by Stephen O’Neill resulted in his second yellow and a dismissal.

Kerry, when on the back foot against Cavan on Sunday, repeatedly chose to take their opponent down and give up a mid-range free rather than let the player get by. The Dubs did likewise near the end of their game with Cork. The Rebels did some of it too against Galway the week before.

I don’t blame the players, or even the management, this one is all on the administrators. Cynical fouling has been around a long time, but the advent of massed defences, safety first, and increased fitness has meant that too often a tactic of fouling repeatedly is used to see a team home.


With no cumulative yellow card punishment, picking up a yellow in each round has no deterrent, so players will use them every game to deny an opponent. The black card is on the way, and I believe that will make players think twice at least, but a straight red for denying a clear effort on goal should be introduced too.

Now, when a team is four or five points with 15 minutes to go they would be mad to attack and kill the game. Instead, why not sit back, foul the opposition at a safe distance and whatever you do, don’t let them have sniff of a three pointer, by fair means or foul. Too often we have been treated to sterile finishes and games dwindling away in a fog of tangled bodies, jostling and yellow cards.

We go to watch the best players, players like Sean Cavanagh, perform and for long stretches this summer he, and many others, have served up marvellous entertainment. But the conclusion of games now is often more like a Royal Rumble than a Championship match.

‘Don’t hate the player, hate the game’ was what somebody tweeted in the aftermath of the Brolly rant. None of us want to hate Gaelic football, so let’s get this sorted now. Compared to other, more amorphous problems like racism or burnout it is easily fixed with a stroke or two of a pen at Congress.


Let’s kill the disease before it kills the patient.

JOE.IEConor Heneghan says... every year in the GAA and particularly in Gaelic Football, there is an issue du jour regarding the current state of the game that dominates the news agenda before everyone seems to realise that, by and large and barring a few minor flaws, Gaelic Football is just fine the way it is. 

The structure of the championship and the need for the provincial championships is something that is regularly returned to, while in recent years, thanks mainly to a crusade led by a man that has been front and centre of attention in the last few days, the debate on cynical fouling is something about which everyone is keen to throw in their tuppence worth.

Is cynical fouling a problem? Yes, it is and although Joe Brolly's rant was a little over the top and misguided at times, his passion about the topic and his concern for the message being sent to kids playing the game was clear and in no way contrived. At the same time, anyone who thinks that this is a recent phenomenon or that it is exclusive to the GAA is kidding themselves.


If you listen to some pundits who played in the past, just as they like to refer to their era as something of a golden and bygone age in terms of the quality of football being played, often they like to talk up the 'manly physicality' that existed in their day in comparison to the petty and, of course, cynical fouling which is en vogue in the modern era.

In retort I would ask, which is worse, Sean Cavanagh's rugby tackle on Conor McManus or this punch by the late, great Paidi Ó Sé on Dinny Allen? I know which one I'd rather be on the receiving end of.

Páidi's punch wasn't cynical of course, it was blatant and acted out right in front of the referee but cynical play of some form or another existed in his day, it existed before it and it still exists today, it has existed in the GAA for as long as anyone can remember and while that doesn't make it right, it has formed part of the 'win at all costs' mentality that exists in the GAA and in all levels of elite sport.

Sure, it is not a message that you want to be preaching to youngsters but it would be more of a worry if nothing was being done about it. The black card might not solve all of Gaelic Football's ills but it is certainly a start and as Cavanagh himself admitted at the weekend, he would have thought twice about making the tackle if it meant that it would have ended his participation in proceedings.

When introducing the black card, the Football Review Committee (FRC) had to heavily water down their proposals but anyone familiar with the association knows that, a little like Garth in Wayne's World, they fear change and were never going to approve of sweeping changes immediately.

If the black card proves to be a success, however, or at least a qualified one, it can be amended to ensure that the punishment for blatant cynical fouls meets the crime and acts a huge deterrent to the individuals and indeed teams and management who use cynical tactics for their own benefit.

Although I suspect that the talk about cynical fouling and its influence on the game will die down in the coming days and weeks, it is still encouraging that people are engaging in (mostly) healthy debate about the issue in the first place. Is it ruining Gaelic Football? What I saw in at least two of the four games at the weekend and in the majority of matches I've seen in recent years would suggest otherwise and besides, there are far more pertinent problems that need to be solved first.

The ongoing plight of the club player for instance. As mentioned earlier, the need to review the structure of the Championship and the National League, which for the majority of teams, takes up way more time than the Championship despite not being nearly as much of a priority.

But maybe we need Joe to go on another rant before those issues assume the same national prominence as cynical fouling did this week.