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15 January 2009 Edition

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More than a game BY MATT TREACY

Yellow card for GAA statistics

THE GAA released statistics on Monday purporting to prove that the new disciplinary rules have been a success. The said statistics apparently show that the average number of yellow cards per game has actually dropped in the hurling and football matches played so far this year although I am not sure to what other matches they were comparing them to.
The average number of yellow cards in hurling is low anyway, and disciplinary and sporting behaviour is far higher, so why it was thought necessary to lumber The Truly Beautiful Game with the same system as the Irish rugby league is beyond me.
Anyway, I haven’t yet seen a hurling game played under the new system so I will defer judgement on that. From what I have seen of the football, however, I would think it has not added anything. Indeed, if anything, the new regulations and the time it requires for the referee to dispense ticks and cards and note all of the same has further diminished the playing time which some teams have already succeeded in developing into a fine art.
The match I did see was the Dublin v Wicklow O’Byrne Cup quarter-final in Parnell Park last Sunday. Wicklow had a rare victory over Dublin and will be happy to have another match. Only one Dublin senior panellist, Bernard Brogan, featured but even at that the ridiculous amount of missed opportunities does not speak highly of the standard of football in the county, particularly when it comes to scoring.
The match was refereed by Cormac Reilly of Meath, who is normally a fair chap so no criticisms should be interpreted as casting aspersions on him. Mind you, he may have had a heavy lunch which caused him to twice manage to intervene himself between the ball and the intended target of a pass for which he then penalised Dublin by throwing the ball in. But we shall not quibble. In fact, in one instance the throw-in led to a half-decent goal chance which, of course, was spurned.

THE object of the rule changes is apparently to punish cynical fouling. And, specifically, the sort of fouls designed to impede a player who has won possession, arm (or hurl) around the neck, jersey pulling, tripping, third man tackle, and so on. Fair enough, although others have pointed out that the real cynicism is more to be found in diving, feigning injury and time wasting, none of which can be punished under the current rule book. Indeed, it might be argued that the cleverer exponents of cheating will be rewarded by the new system as a dive can immediately result in an opponent being replaced.
It has been claimed that the new system has already reduced the number of fouls and thereby increased the amount of playing time. Perhaps the statistics say that, but from the evidence of my eyes that was not the case in Parnell Park. It wasn’t a particularly ferociously-contested match and there was possibly only one foul late on that might have deserved a straight red rather than a yellow.
And, in fairness to the players and the referee, a good proportion of the fouls were technical fouls such as handling on the ground that were in large part caused by the bad weather conditions and the slippery surface. But, as I said, the play was not free-flowing and much of that was caused by the high number of black book tickings which required the referee to note the players’ names. It was also notable later on in the match that any such delays were also used by players to go down with ‘cramp’ and other ailments in order to turn a 30-second delay into one of 3 or 4 minutes. Reilly only played two minutes added time when, in fact, he could just as easily have added 15 - not that anyone would have thanked him for that.
Which, as I said before, argues in favour of another change: the introduction of the same timing system as in rugby where the clock can be stopped. That might reduce the current system to absurdity, as in you could have matches starting at 3 o’clock and finishing three hours later, but it would also go a long way to eliminating the current situation in which a team with a lead can turn the remaining 20/25 minutes of a match into 3 or 4 minutes by prolonging every stoppage through fake injuries and other ruses. It has been done and there are the statistics to prove it although they are not quoted by Croke Park when debates of this nature arise.
So my verdict is not a positive one, although I again admit that the poor quality of the match was due to other factors apart from the rules. It will also be interesting to see what impact they have when competitive levels increase with the beginning of the league, and of course they must still await approval at Congress in April if they are to be applied in the Championship.

I WILL get my first opportunity to see the new rules in hurling in operation on Sunday when Dublin play their first competitive game under Anthony Daly. Their opponents are Kilkenny in the Walsh Cup and there is sure to be a large crowd present both for the opportunity to see the All-Ireland champions and reflecting the huge interest and anticipation among long-suffering Dublin hurling people in the prospects for the team under the Clare man.
It will also be interesting to see what sort of a side Brian Cody fields. Last year, the Cats only put out a shadow team for the Walsh Cup and are recently returned from holiday. The man in the Glanbia cap might hopefully be attracted by the notion of testing the mettle of the Dubs under the new dispensation by throwing on some of the big names.

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