Despite Nickey Brennan’s protestations to the contrary (which, I thought, had an air of The Lady’s Not for Turning about them), I can’t see how the new disciplinary rules can last in anything like their current form. Sure, the rules will probably remain in place until the end of the NFL – it wouldn’t be the first time they fucked up an entire league campaign with a laboratory experiment in this area – but there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that they’ll form part of the disciplinary code come championship time.
Think about it: there were 80 yellow cards issued at the weekend in 24 matches involving a starting total of 720 players. That’s a strike rate of a bit over 11% in terms of dismissals, many of which – to take Peadar Gardiner’s shirt-tugging example – were for very trivial infractions. I dunno about the rest of you but that kind of statistic for sendings-off strikes me as overkill on steroids and, on this basis, the league is going to be great crack entirely if these rules remain in place.
As an example of this, instead of using subs tactically (with the timing for the introduction of replacements now more the job of the ref than it is of the manager), the lads on the sideline have a clear incentive to match their least useful players against the strongest performers on the opposite side and give them orders to get into a yellow card tango with high-profile opponents. What’s the best tactic for stopping Sean Cavanagh steaming at you? How do you prevent Gooch from scoring? The man in black with his yellow card is the best option by far.
It’s difficult at this early point of the year to see what, if any, part of the new disciplinary rules will survive the vote in Congress in April. But we know from previous years that crackdowns in this area, which start with cards being issued left, right and centre in the early weeks of the inter-county season, rarely persist into the summer. This is a pity because persistent fouling is a problem and, as things currently stand, it’s one which – as Tyrone’s utterly cynical approach showed so clearly last year – can bring enormous rewards for counties who choose to play this way in the increasingly professional manner that they do.
There could, however, be an easier way to stop them. Derry’s Damien Cassidy makes the very valid point that the the new rules are only adding an unnecessary layer of complication to the task of imposing discipline and that the best way to stop serial offenders is to hit them with match bans. I think he’s right. Two or three yellows over the course of the league (or championship) should mean that you miss the next match, even if it’s the All-Ireland final. Two yellows in a single match should also mean not just dismissal from the field but a one-match suspension as well.
Such an approach would come down like a ton of bricks on players and teams who rely excessively on brawn and it would do so without having the ridiculous side effect of decimating teams, which, in numerical terms, is exactly what happened last weekend. As a laboratory experiment, match bans have got to be worth a try and it would surely be much more worthwhile road-testing a regime like this between now and April instead of destroying another league campaign effectively re-running a set of disciplinary rules which we already know from 2005 won’t work and which the GAA quite obviously won’t have the stomach to implement for the championship.