Sean Moran’s take on the rule changes:
It’s time disruptive fouls were firmly tackled
On Gaelic Games : The experimental disciplinary rules worked well in the National Leagues and deserve support
THIS WEEKEND the GAA once more comes to grips with the most deeply-rooted problem facing the association: the culture of indiscipline within its games. This years annual congress will debate the future of the experimental disciplinary rules, as trialled during the current National Leagues.
Critics of the Disciplinary Task Forces proposals will take issue with the phrase culture of indiscipline but how else can it be described?
Its intended meaning here is that many teams and managers fundamentally resist the notion of being accountable to rules and resist as stubbornly as they can attempts to enforce compliance.
At least the proposals down for debate at congress this week have, unlike their 2005 predecessors, had a proper trial. The results of that trial have been encouraging. Each week the task force has put out statistics showing that there are more scores from play, a greater proportion of playing time over the 70 minutes and crucially, fewer fouls.
So why is there such visceral opposition regardless of whether it manages to derail the proposals to accepting the experimental provisions as permanent rule changes? Why do players and managers seem to feel that a tougher approach to foul play will disadvantage them?
And not just any managers: Kilkennys Brian Cody and Tyrones Mickey Harte, of the respective current All-Ireland champions, have prominently opposed the proposals and have been joined by Kerrys Jack OConnor, the next most successful current manager at All-Ireland level.
In the Gaelic Players Association statement yesterday evening the principal reasons given for the overwhelming negativity towards the proposals actually had nothing to do with their merits but with their enforcement.
Inconsistency of application is a potential problem with any set of rules but why would these be less acceptable if unevenly applied than the current rules. Surely the parameters of any code of conduct have to be established before their consistency can be worked on?
Fear of unwarranted dismissal was also mentioned in the GPA statement but that is completely subjective. Players in general are often reticent about agreeing that any infraction merits dismissal so any rule changes that make such a sanction more likely was always unlikely to find favour.
For managers, opposition to the substance of the proposals are partly because the desire to play on the edge is seen as a valid approach, albeit that such passionate engagement makes overstepping the mark inevitable. But if a team goes out to play on the edge, they will also occasionally fall off it.
Once a player is sent off on one of those yellows, said OConnor this week, he wont tackle to save his life in the next game. What the yellow card does is it effectively takes the tackle out of the game. Its as simple as that. They are taking the physicality out of the game.
But if a player cant tackle without committing one of the listed infractions hes breaking the rules. To oppose the task force proposals is to assert the right of a player effectively to get away with it.
What tends to be overlooked is that the argument is not about what constitutes foul play all of the experimental yellow card infractions that require a player to leave the field but be replaced are already contrary to rule but about the consequences of that indiscipline.
Remember the fouls that have been categorised as highly disruptive are: pulling down an opponent, tripping an opponent, deliberately body colliding, bringing an arm or hurley around the neck of an opponent and remonstrating aggressively with match officials. There is nothing ambiguous about any of these; they are all unacceptable. In other words no legitimate use of physicality is affected.
By requiring a player who commits such an infraction to leave the field the proposals are simply raising the stakes for acts of indiscipline.
You might have an isolated incident, said Cody last week in stating his opposition, but the rules are there to govern those things anyway. If its a red-card offence then hes sent off. And thats fine. If he gets a yellow then thats a warning and if hes stupid enough after that then hell go then.
But to be gone for the match on a yellow card, I dont like it. Its a shame to see a player getting a yellow card maybe five minutes into the game. It could happen in a Leinster final, or an All-Ireland semi-final or final. For maybe a clumsy challenge, but certainly not something deliberate. I dont think players go out to deliberately do anything stupid. I dont think there is any problem in the game.
Firstly, this would have the effect of indulging unacceptable behaviour because cautioning effectively allows twice as many fouls before decisive action is taken.
Secondly, Codys comments and he isnt unique in this typify an attitude within the games that the player committing the infraction is in some way a sympathetic figure, who accidentally gets into trouble.
Even if the actions arent deliberate and plenty of them are they arent allowed and unfairly disadvantage the opposition. The question is: how can they effectively be discouraged?
Harte in his Irish News column has argued the rules as they stand would be sufficiently effective if properly enforced but the evidence painstakingly assembled by ONeills task force is that the listed infractions arent adequately dealt with under current rules and have therefore become more common than is acceptable and worth the penalty incurred.
Read again the above list of highly disruptive fouls and work out which of them is worth encouraging.
Other arguments have tried to create a distinction between football and hurling and maintain that the latter doesnt have the same problem with calculated fouling. All of the empirical evidence is on the other side. Not alone are there the infractions specific to hurling as listed above but those that are common to both codes are not in short supply in hurling.
If serious about eliminating unacceptable behaviour, the GAA have to tilt the balance of convenience against the perpetrator. Disruptive fouls that disadvantage skilful players operating within the rules have to be turned into liabilities for the transgressor.
Another argument asks how small clubs will cope with the universal adoption of these proposals, presumably on the grounds that they mightnt have sufficient numbers to support an extravagant fouling habit. The answer is that they must learn not to foul. Anyway, many such clubs because of demographic pressures have to field very young players. Which regime better protects their interests?
The comparison has been made before but parking in Dublin before clamping was introduced was impossible because motorists felt breaking the law worth the risk of a fine that might or might not be enforced. Clamping was greeted at the time as an infringement of human rights but parking spaces became available because breaking the law was no longer worth the penalty.
Where does the GAA want the balance of convenience to lie?