Sport | 2 months ago

Three years after its introduction, the damning fact is that referees themselves aren’t clear on the correct implementation of the black card.

It was hard not to feel sympathy towards Darren Hughes yesterday.

Midway through the first half of a pulsating encounter with Dublin in Clones, Hughes was issued a black card by Joe McQuillan for a trip that Stevie Wonder could have seen wasn’t deliberate.

Hughes was furious and rightly so; he had done nothing wrong yet that was his lot for the day. Sure, he got to witness a classic for the remaining 45 minutes or so but had he been out on the pitch, the end result might have been different.

If that wasn't bad enough, his blood must have been boiling shortly after his own dismissal when Bernard Brogan escaped the same censure for the type of block tackle the black card was introduced to stamp out in the first place.

Not to heap too much blame on Joe McQuillan because other referees are just as guilty, but Dublin’s win over Monaghan encapsulated all that is wrong with the black card in its current form.

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In the second half, Diarmuid Connolly was given a black card for an offence that wasn’t even in the same postcode as one that merits black and it was hard to think that McQuillan was not affected by the reaction to the incidents involving Brogan and Hughes earlier in the game and the realisation that he made a mistake.

But McQuillan isn’t the only fallible party here. Far from it.

During the league campaign just gone, for example, incidents involving Tyrone’s Niall Sludden and Laois’ Donie Kingston spring to mind as two of the more blatant examples that referees still don’t know how to correctly implement the black card.

Dublin v Monaghan might have been the straw to break the camel’s back.

In defence of referees, they have a thankless job on their hands.

The introduction of the mark, for example, is one more thing they have to worry about in a game that is becoming nigh on impossible to referee with ‘shemozzles’ or ‘melees’ becoming more and more frequent.

Secondly, they aren’t helped by the fact that the black card rule itself appears very much open to interpretation, especially when it comes to the rule governing deliberately pulling down an opposition player.

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That’s not to say that the black card should be binned entirely, however.

Its detractors don’t like to admit it, but it has absolutely had a number of positive effects. Any player with even a smidgen of intelligence wouldn’t dream of deliberately blocking the run of an opponent off the ball these days because they know they’d get the punishment they deserve.

And while it would be stretching it to say that the very tackle that inspired the black card in the first place – Sean Cavanagh’s famous rugby tackle on Conor McManus in 2013 – has gone from the game completely, those that are guilty of committing it do so out of desperation or in an effort to waste time and know full well they’ll be walking before the referee even sticks his hand in his pocket.

If the black card in its current form is no longer fit for purpose, then what next?

Colm Parkinson of this parish has long been an advocate of refining the definition of a black card that would leave zero room for interpretation.

Let it apply to offences that, like the Cavanagh tackle on McManus and blatant third man tackles (a tackle by former Mayo player Richie Feeney in the 2014 All-Ireland club final comes to mind), are so obvious that nobody is in any doubt that the black card sanction should apply.

In soccer parlance, for example, they're known as professional fouls and fans of that code can spot them a mile away.

Until something is done, you can virtually guarantee that Darren Hughes, Diarmuid Connolly and others won’t be the last victims of a flawed system that is having a profound effect on games at the highest level and is becoming a weekly stick to beat the GAA with as a result.

What do you think?

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GAA, AIB GAA