The GAA yesterday unveiled two sets of proposals – relating to on-field discipline and player burnout – which will now go before a Special Congress on 4th October. If the proposals are accepted, they’ll come into effect from the New Year and, if they do get passed, we’ll never hear the end of it because both, while no doubt well-intentioned, are deeply flawed and downright stupid.
Let’s start with the discipline issue, where the proposal is that six types of fouls which have been specified as “highly disruptive” (details here in this morning’s Indo) will incur a yellow card for a first-time offence. It is furthermore proposed that a yellow card will (as was the case on an experimental basis for part of the 2005 NFL) result in the player in question taking no further part in the game but a replacement will be allowed on instead.
The lads who came up with this proposal – the Disciplinary Task Force – have justified it on the basis that the six specified fouls are seriously damaging the flow of the game and so by adopting a zero tolerance approach to them (and, one assumes, all other yellow card offences while they’re at it), they hope to change player behaviour sufficiently to stamp out this kind of carry-on. Nickey Brennan (who has repeatedly cooed about the ‘manliness’ of our games) claims that the proposal won’t blunt the physicality of hurling and football and that “players who foul while making an honest effort to play the ball” won’t get targeted.
What I’m puzzled about is why this proposal has emerged at this point in time. There hasn’t been any great problem this year with on-field skullduggery, certainly not of the kind that would warrant such a draconian step-change in the rules such as this. There has, for sure, been an increase in aggressive Chelsea-like challenging of referee’s decisions (mainly by the lads in Green and Gold) and, of course, we had the Aidan O’Mahony blow-me-over-with-a-feather-duster incident but surely the way to deal with Kerrymen fecking around in this way is just to throw them out of the championship? Seriously though, where is the evidence that these fouls are “seriously damaging the flow of the game” and why do they merit the introduction of a rule that’s already been tried and has shown not to work in practice?
Nickey Brennan’s claim that players making an honest attempt to get the ball will be given the benefit of the doubt strikes me a bit naive. As things currently stand, many refs dole out yellow cards like confetti, often for the most innocuous incidents and, frequently, they do so in the wrong. If this proposal gets passed and you end up with a fussy official like, for example, David Coldrick, it’ll be down to seven-a-side before the seventy minutes is up and there’s no guarantee that the most cynical players will be the ones kicking their heels on the sidelines either. It’s also the case that, if this rule is passed, decisions on the use of subs will no longer have any tactical dimension but will instead depend entirely on who gets ordered off. I cannot see how this kind of chaotic coming-and-going, at the sole behest of the ref, will do anything to “improve the flow of the game”.
The second set of proposals relate to player burnout and contain a number of elements concerning when collective training can take place, who has first call on players and so forth (full details here). However, the main talking point here is that yet another attempt is being made to kill off the U21 grade but this time the proposal is that it be replaced by a new U20 grade.
This makes no sense whatsoever: the current U21 grade represents a significant step up from minor and the way in which U21 is such a fertile nursery for senior (in a way that minor often isn’t) means that it’s an important grade which should be retained. Instead, the GAA is proposing to replace it with an untried U20 category (having already tried and failed earlier this year to conflate the minor and U21 grades) and to introduce a whole load of unworkable rules about who will and won’t be allowed to tog out at U20.
In doing so, the GAA has made no serious effort to explain how the replacement of U21 with U20 will do anything to improve matters with regard to player burnout and the whole proposal strikes me as fiddling for fiddling’s sake. It’s yet another example of the absolute contempt with which U21 is held within the GAA and it’s diffcult to know why this grade is so unloved, given that, in football at least, the U21 championship often provides the most attractive and open kind of football played all year. Instead of trying to kill it off, the GAA should be doing more to increase the profile of U21 and, while they’re at it, they should also start looking at some proper proposals to alter the utterly unworkable senior championship structure that we’re saddled with.
In summary, these proposals are stupid, unnecessary and unworkable and they deserve to be treated accordingly on 4th October.