Yet again we had a weekend where the black card has sparked debate and disagreements.
Saturday’s two round 4A qualifiers saw a total of six black cards being dished out and, although nowhere near as controversial as the previous week, plenty of pundits saw fit to discuss the future of the rule.
There is debate as to whether it is time for Central Council to abandon, or at the very least amend, the black card ruling.
The end of last week saw some interesting developments from the previous weekend’s provincial finals, where all four partaking counties managed to receive a black card each. Down’s Kevin McKernan and Kildare’s Kevin Feely were both scheduled to miss this week’s round 4B qualifiers as both were due to face a one game suspension for receiving their third black card of the season.
And this is where another caveat of the black card comes into play. McKernan, in my opinion correctly, was successful in his appeal for the black card that was issued to him in the Ulster final for a collision with Tyrone captain, Sean Cavanagh.
Feely is available as he managed to have a previous black card, issued to him in a league game against Clare in March, rescinded. A motion was passed in Congress last year stating that a player could not appeal any of there black cards until they were facing suspension.
The first qualifier on Saturday was a magnificently entertaining spectacle between Mayo and Cork. Both sides were issued with one black card with the latter receiving more reaction that the first.
Jamie O’Sullivan saw black late in the first half for an off the ball challenge on Aidan O’Shea which was pretty much justified. With twelve minutes of the game remaining, referee Ciaran Brannigan, deemed that Lee Keegan had deliberately tripped Cork’s Mark Collins.
This occurred immediately after Collins had pulled Keegan back and you could argue that they tangled as Keegan ran behind him. Alternatively you could argue that it was intentional and cynical, it probably depend on your opinion of Lee Keegan rather than your interpretation of the rules.
Only three points separated the two sides at this stage. Mayo do have decent strength in depth but you are talking about the player that was deemed to be the best in the country last year and like any card the referee must be absolutely sure he is making the correct decision.
The inconsistency of black card decisions has seen unwanted attention drawn to referees recently. However, it is also difficult not to empathise with them to a degree. Each contentious decision puts them in the spotlight but what is the actual directive being issued to the refereeing fraternity regarding the black card?
The black card that Dean Rock received in the Leinster final was a textbook black card. He pulled at Mick O’Grady’s ankle and the letter of the law says he has to go.
However, we were told by officialdom that the black card was introduced to cut out cynical fouling. Rock’s challenge was not cynical, it’s merely a typically clumsy forward’s challenge.
Nor does it interrupt any impetus from the game. About ninety minutes earlier Darragh O’Hanlon blasted a shot wide when through on goal in the Ulster final. He then found himself on the receiving end of what seemed a fair bit of sledging from Niall Morgan, the Tyrone goalkeeper.
If the letter of the law is applied again Morgan receives a black card as it’s pretty certain that he wasn’t asking O’Hanlon if he fancied a pint after the game. Possibly the referee didn’t feel this warranted sending Morgan to the line though ‘abusive or threatening language or gestures’ is deemed a black card offence.
Based on recent games the penalty for a deliberate collision will soon rule out hitting a player with a fair shoulder, as Kevin McKernan may testify after the Ulster final, as there’s a chance a black card may be awarded if he construes it as an attempt to take an opponent out of the passage of play.
It’s undeniable that the black card could have a positive effect on Gaelic football but the list of current infractions need reassessed and amended. Will it take a contentious decision that defines an All-Ireland semi-final or final for this to happen?
I hope not though something tells me we might see a couple of more debates over it before the summer’s out.
Michael O’Neill, Pundit Arena
Listen to this week’s episode of The 16th Man where we previewed Sunday’s All-Ireland football quarter-finals and heard from Davy Fitzgerald and Tipp hurling legend John Leahy.