GAA Congress is upon us again in a couple of weeks, and with it, as usual, brings the twin threat of dreaded new rule proposals and the omnipresent staunch resistance to any such changes. In 2020, with a myriad of football rule changes in the books already, the focus is turning to hurling, and the proposal to introduce the black card to the small ball game.
Naturally, hurling and "hurling men" are horrified at the idea of a change of any sort. Davy Fitzgerald and Brian Cody both spoke out against the black card following Wexford's win over Kilkenny on Sunday. The "Leave Our Game Alone" mantra is a familiar one in hurling, and this proposal seems unlikely to pass this time out. Yet the natural resistance does belie a serious issue in the game, that of the automatic foul stopping the clear goalscoring chance. More prevalent with each passing year, a goal chance is more likely to end up as a free-in/yellow card than an actual three pointer.
— Daragh Ó Conchúir (@RebelDevil71) February 16, 2020
We see it every week, and it's becoming automatic for defenders. One point is better than three points. The punishment is not a deterrent.
Yet, for this year anyway, things are likely to stay the same.
One of the drawbacks to the black card (the sin bin version) is the impression that it's a football rule being imposed on hurling. In fact, Congress' proposal is word for word the same as the football rule, with the addition of a hurley in the list of weapons for a deliberate trip being the sole change.
Arguments have been rightly made that the issue is not the same as football. There is certainly less cynical fouling out the field, or in transition. The ball moves faster in hurling for one thing. For another, the likes of TJ Reid or Patrick Horgan will punish you from upwards of 100 yards out.
Yet when it comes to goalscoring chances, there is certainly a problem that needs addressing. If not the black card, then what?
On this week's Three Man Weave, Balls.ie's weekly GAA podcast, Mark, Mick and PJ discussed the problem, with one preferred solution winning out over the current proposal.
Mick: It has been happening in hurling since I can remember. In 2013, I was at the Clare/Limerick All-Ireland semi-final, a week after the Sean Cavanagh/Conor McManus, "You can forget about Sean Cavanagh as a man" incident.
Clare were about five/six points up in the latter stages of the game, and I think it was Graeme Mulcahy who was through, and Patrick Donnellan wrestled him to the ground. Rugby tackle. Free-in. Yellow card. Point for Limerick. Clare are still in control of the game.
And I'm thinking, 'that's as bad as it gets', and I'm thinking that as a Clare fan about to go to an All-Ireland final. I watch The Sunday Game that night, and it's not even brought up. Compare that to the furore over Sean Cavanagh.
So this has been around for a long time and basically you're at the stage now where if a defender doesn't foul you for a goal chance, they're not doing their job. It's part of the game, and it's just stopping lads with a bit of skill from being able to score.
PJ: I don't think this rule will come in. This nearly feels like a flag flying exercise. They're trying to introduce this idea, soften them up, and maybe people will start to come up with a different, better idea. But I can't see this coming in. Especially as there would be no trial whatsoever. It would be straight in for the Championship. I can't believe that would happen.
Mick: Is this a bit too mad? For a deliberate foul and a goal chance, and the referee determines what a goal chance is, it's up to him, it's a penalty?
PJ: From anywhere? Say within the 45?
Mick: They'd have to put particular rules on it, but whatever is a genuine goal chance. In the same way in soccer for years, you've had the what was considered a genuine goal-scoring opportunity was the red card threshold. That was always subjective for a referee.
That does seem like it's not irrationally punishing something.
Mark: You can argue that both there is absolutely cynical play in hurling, and that the black card isn't the solution. For instance, if there are so many problems with the black card in football still, and we're all asking why there isn't a free straight in front of the goals for cynical play rather than a black card at the end of the game when it doesn't make a difference, then why on earth would we bring it into hurling?
At this juncture it looks like nothing will change for 2020, and that's probably sensible. Possibly, as PJ suggested, this was a test balloon by the GAA to get something more palatable through next year. Perhaps the automatic penalty will be where we head in the long run.
You can listen to the full discussion and lots more on this week's Three Man Weave. You can subscribe to the show and all of our podcasts here or by searching Balls.ie Podcasts on all good podcast apps.