The newspaper headlines ranged from Black Sunday to Black Sabbath – with a Black Dearth thrown in for good measure – as the GAA’s new black card system began with a whimper and not a bang on the first weekend of action in 2014.
A total of 17 players were black carded in 20 inter-county games played on Saturday and Sunday under the new rules designed to curb cynical play in the GAA.
The pre-match warnings of a flood of players being sent to the line under the third card option now available to referees failed to materialize, but not all observers were happy with the rule change and its introduction.
Armagh boss Paul Grimley, who saw his team lose Robbie Tasker to a black card in their McKenna Cup win over Queen’s University, was one of the main detractors and told RTE that supporters will become “completely disillusioned” with the change.
“The rule change was uncalled for because it was a disproportionate response to the amount of cynical tackling being done. It was driven by punditry and in the media I feel,” Grimley said.
“If you look at the highlights of last year, there was maybe four or five challenges that were regarded as outright cynical. If that is why the rule was changed I think it is a fairly poor judgment on everybody’s behalf.
“There was nobody that turned around and highlighted the four or five great tackles that might have been made to run parallel with that.
“I feel supporters in general will become completely disillusioned and a wee bit frustrated whenever they see some of the players getting the black card for whatever reason.”
Despite the low total of black cards issued on the first weekend of action, Grimley remains adamant it is a step too far for his sport.
“You can’t blame the referees. They are doing their best obviously. The rules are there. There was definitely no call of the rule change for the black card,” he said.
“I think it absolutely makes a cod of our game. People are on about cynical play. For the five or six instances there was, did it require a rule change? The answer is no, in my mind anyway.”
Former Offaly boss Eugene McGee, one of the instigators of the new ruling in his role with the Football Development Committee, believes the rule will take some getting used to for players and management teams alike.
McGee spoke to the media after watching Dublin beat Westmeath in Mullingar without one black card being shown.
“There’ll be a couple of controversial ones I’m sure in the early league matches, which will test referees and everybody but that process has to be gone through,” McGee said.
“I think the number one thing, over half a dozen players were playing for their county for the first time, Dublin and Westmeath, so they were determined to stay on the field.
“We need to see more cut and thrust matches. Don’t forget, the overriding reason for having the black card is, it is not a penalty, it is a deterrent.
“Players are well aware of it. There has been nine or 10 shown around the country so people will be deterred and that is the whole idea.
“It has to be a punishment if you commit the offense, but I believe that most of the players have been thinking about it and will say, ‘I don’t want to be sent off for a black card. I’m going to look stupid being sent off on a black card.’
“They’d nearly rather be sent off for a red card offense. The embarrassment of having to walk off the field and being replaced by another player, probably lesser than yourself, is a big embarrassment.
“These are the sort of things that the modern day players will think about — I think they will anyway — and the black card, I’m convinced, will largely disappear before the end of the year.”
Dublin boss Jim Gavin praised Meath referee David Coldrick after the same game for his handling of the new rules.
Gavin said, “We got some very good briefings from officials within Dublin and from Croke Park and the players are well up to speed on it.
“David Coldrick handled the game very, very well, there was great use of the advantage rule and I thought the new rules worked.”
Beaten Westmeath boss Paul Bealin added, “I thought it was very good. Nobody likes to see anyone get a black card and I think it is all about the prevention of cynical fouling as much as you possibly can.”