The black card will spend much of the Championship summer under the microscope, given that it keeps on doing its pesky job by depriving games of quality players for relatively innocuous incidents. Monaghan's Kieran Hughes lasted just eight minutes of the Ulster championship game with Fermanagh on Saturday evening, for pulling back Ryan Lyons.
It was a textbook black card and off Hughes went, but it did not prevent discussion of the incident from featuring on The Sunday Game the following evening. After it cut ice on RTE, former All-Ireland final referee Pat McEnaney appeared on the We Are Ulster podcast to discuss the rule as a whole, and was brutally honest in answering questions posed by host Damien Donohoe. Mcenaney said that the Hughes decision was the correct one, but did admit frustration with the inconsistency of the rule's application. The 'We' he refers to below are the referees:
I saw some of the sport with Ciaran Whelan and that. Bottom line is, it was a black card. End of story. The problem in the game was that we still aren't consistent enough. We had a trip by the Fermanagh 'keeper that should have been a black card, and a couple of tackles by Monaghan players that could have been yellow cards. It's disappointing when you have Martin Carney, the commentator on RTE, adamant that they were yellow card offences. Martin Carney is like me: he's not under 50, but he knows the rules.
So that's disappointing. To go back to Kieran Hughes' black card, no question about it. But people wouldn't have a problem with it if we were more consistent with it.
McEnaney did accentuate one of the positive benefits of the new rule, but that merely prefaced another discussion of its failures, before hinting that another summer of inconsistency would lead to some soul-searching:
I think we're just getting them wrong. If we go back to last year's All-Ireland semi-finals, between Dublin and Kerry, there were clear incidents of players being dragged down. Young Donoghue pulled one fella straight down, and it was a clear black card. The commentator knew it, the crowd knew it, but we just didn't issue it.
The one plus thing about the black card that has gone unnoticed is bodychecking. Bodychecking is nearly gone from our game now. Back in our playing days, bodychecking was...well, you were never going to go for a return ball, as you were always going to get hit a shoulder. It was coached. But the black card has been very good for that. I think we've been very good at it. But the deliberate trips and pull-downs, we are missing. And this is at national level, with some of our top referees, we are just falling short of where we need to get to.
Then came the ultimate question. Has it improved the game?
[Exhales]. That's a good question. I'm disappointed it hasn't reached the level we expected it to reach. For bodychecking, yeah, that's been great. But this is a big year for it. Even people like myself, who have advocated it and been vocal about getting it right.
If we don't get it right, the Association, and fellas like myself, will have to have a wee think about it. But the Championship this year is a big year for it, and if it's not successful, we need to be big enough, strong enough, and mentally tough enough to say 'right, let's go back and revisit it'.
McEnaney also had an interesting take when asked if the pace of the modern game had surpassed the ability of one man to judge it all:
No, no. Not at all. In some matches, with all the handpassing that's going on, you could be in the same half of the field for ten minutes. So no, the game has not become any more difficult to referee than it has been, no.
It's very interesting, and you can listen to the full interview below.