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Too Many Rules In Gaelic Football?

The introduction of the ‘black card infractions’ sees Gaelic footballs rules altered once again, adding to an already complex and complicated rulebook. Michael Dorgan asks whether or not there are too many rules in Gaelic football today.

The GAA’s attempts to tackle fouls of a cynical nature is welcomed, yet questions remain about the types of fouls which warrant black cards as well as the punishments for such offences.

Cynical or deliberate fouls which fall under the black card system are; pulling an opponent to the ground, kicking or tripping an opponent and a body charge (the two other black card infractions are to remonstrate aggressively with an official and using abusive language to others). A player who is guilty of such an offence is ordered off the pitch for the remainder of the game but can be replaced by another player. If three of these cards have already been issued then any further black card is the equivalent of a red card whereby the player cannot be replaced.

Nonetheless, if a team is clinging on to a slender lead in the dying minutes of a game a black card isn’t considered too much of a deterrent as a cynical foul may stop an opponent scoring and the player can be replaced by another, fresher team mate.

Further, there are other ways to cynically foul an opponent without receiving a black card. Take the following scenario; a player has skipped past the last defender and is outside the penalty area bearing down on goal. In a last ditch attempt to stop the attacker scoring a goal the defender pulls his opponents jersey back and stops him from scoring. The punishment; a yellow card and a free are awarded. Instead of a certain goal, two points have been saved and the offending player remains on the pitch.

This loophole exposes the inadequacies of the new system and underlines how it was ill-conceived as the above foul should certainly warrant a black card. If the GAA are determined to root out cynical play then all cynical or deliberate fouls should warrant the same punishment. Instead we now have a system where certain cynical fouls have entirely different punishments which can subsequently have huge implications on the outcome of matches.

Added to the nuances between black and yellow cards is that while a deliberate ‘body collide’ warrants a black card, ‘to charge an opponent’ results in a noting or ticking. One would think they are relatively the same yet if that’s not puzzling enough, there are five different types of charges in the rulebook!

The loopholes in the black card system have only further complicated the rule book; the new ‘advantage’ or ‘five second’ rule is another baffling addition.

While a defined advantage rule has been in need for some time, its scope can only be somewhat welcome. The new rule allows a team an advantage for up to five seconds after a player has been fouled. However, five seconds is a long time in football and while its purpose is to encourage a greater flow in the game, it will in all likelihood have the opposite effect. We are now likely to see games being stopped more often and play being brought back by up to fifty or sixty metres for a free. This is because if a team has been awarded the advantage and then proceeds to lose the ball in this five second window, the play is brought back to where the foul originated.

It is no surprise then that debates over the rules seem to be a regular occurrence and not just confined to the latest addition of rules. Players often become irate by a refereeing decision simply because they do not know or understand the full set of rules. The same can be said about spectators as well as sports commentators or pundits, and this lack of knowledge adds unnecessary strain on the referee.

There seems to be a certain level of disconnect that needs to be addressed. While players should make it their own responsibility to become more knowledgeable of the rules, one off the field positive that can be taken away from the introduction of the black card system is the way in which some clubs have reacted by inviting referees to speak and explain the new rules system to players. If similar meetings were to take place at the beginning of each season then this would only be beneficial to the development of the game as a whole.

Also the rule book states the referee need only raise his hand for five seconds to indicate the advantage rule but generally speaking, if a player is being given advantage he is likely to be in front of the referee and not looking around to locate the referees arm. Here the GAA should be instructing the referee to signal but also to verbally communicate with the players. Too often referees fail to engage and communicate effectively with players throughout games and this tends to isolate the referee. If referees become more vocal they will appear more confident in their decisions and this confidence breeds more respect from the players. The GAAs goal should be to achieve the same level of decorum between players and referees as seen in other sports, rugby in particular.

Nonetheless, the GAAs attempt to modernise and encourage a more free flowing game has only over complicated the rule book. There appears to be too many rules for one game and attempts must be made to make the rule book less complex and clearer for all.

Some suggestions would be to implement a black card or a ten minute sin-bin for all types of cynical or deliberate fouls. For the above mentioned scenario, the GAA should look at the soccer equivalent where a tackle on the last man warrants a straight red card. The current system of referees noting as well as issuing black, yellow and red cards must become standardised. Scrap the ticking and/or merge the black and yellow cards to just one colour. Standardising the rule book makes the rules easier to follow and also shifts the debate back on to what’s most important, the football.

Pundit Arena, Michael Dorgan.


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