Posted by Daragh O Conchuir

We look at three ways in which the GAA can make the game flow more freely

2013 GAA Annual CongressLet’s get one thing straight. The cynicism that somehow only caused an experienced QC to blow up on national television eight days ago, has been around forever. It was around in Joe Brolly’s day – he was a good man to hit the ground to win a free himself, which is as cynical as any tug of a jersey.

Bursting an opponent in the nose or jaw off the ball was fairly cynical too but people seem to want a return to these ‘manlier’ days.

Remember Páidí Ó Sé jumping on Bobby Doyle’s back in the 1979 All-Ireland final. He actually got sent off for that, as he had already been booked. Peter Canavan on Colm Cooper 26 years later? Perhaps some people are getting confused and it’s the increased emphasis on defensive solidity as much as the tactical fouling that irks them.

There is no denying that you have more intentional fouling nowadays and that repeated calculated action up the field is more of an issue in the game than what Cavanagh did, which was a reflex, natural reaction that you would expect from your man every day of the week.

Tactical fouling is a natural progression given the ever-increasing amount of time and money being spent preparing teams. Too much has gone into it for sides to accept that they should go out and have their bellies tickled by an outfit with better individual talent.

And so, educated and professional coaches devise ways of limiting the opposition and thus giving them a better chance of winning. Much more work is being done on defending as a unit and that is as it should be.

Brolly is taking credit for highlighting the situation even though he got it all wrong in pinpointing the Cavanagh incident because what he did isn’t the issue, it’s the more calculated stuff. He reckons he has sparked the debate about cynical fouling. What arrogance. Where does he think the black card came out of? Or the Sin Bin eight years ago? More of which anon.

Everyone is in agreement that there needs to be some rule changes as at the moment, crime pays in football. Of course, a defined tackle that is applied the same way from one game to the next would be a great help, as not every foul is intended. But that’s another day’s work.

Here are three potential solutions: 

This would be a preferred choice because it has been applied and has worked. They had it but they caved under pressure. A quick glance of the scoring averages in 2005 and 2008 show that. Even in the first version, when the binned player was replaced by a team-mate for 10 minutes, you saw a drastic reduction in body-checking or tugging the jersey of an off-the-ball runner.

That led to more space, overlaps and scores. When the binned player could not be replaced and his team was reduced to 14 players for that 10-minute period, the punishment was even greater.

Unfortunately, criticism by high profile managers led to the bin being binned itself. The key argument was that it was confusing and that you would end up with a farcical 11 v 11 situation.

That’s such a fatuous line. It’s the one you hear now after in soccer after a corner, when the defending team has pushed, pulled or held an attacking player in the box..

“If you give a penalty for that” wails the ex-pro, “you’re going to have 10 penalties in a game.”

It’s an enabling argument that facilitates repeat offence and leads directly to the failure to apply the rules, to the extent that they become obsolete as rules. But if you give 10 penalties in a game, and keep giving 10 penalties in a game, defenders will stop putting their hands on opposition players.

The same would apply if the sin bin came into play. In both its short periods of life in the GAA, it had proven as much. It is the most punitive measure to a team if you have no replacement, which is the preferred method.

Cynical fouling deep in the opposition half, or even just to deny a point, isn’t worth sitting it out for 10 minutes and leaving your team in a position where they might concede much more.

The FRC decided against it on the basis that it would be too difficult to impose on club game. That’s more an issue of about the standard of officials but what they went for is easier.

It has come as no surprise, having seen the negative reaction to the sin bin even when its benefits were obvious, that managers have been lining up to criticise the black card already.

One good analytical piece showed that Tyrone v Monaghan would have finished 11 v 12 had the black card been in play. Of course, that’s comparing apples with oranges because it wasn’t in play. Tactics will differ when it does.

Again, it will be a case of who’ll blink first when there is apparent disarray in the early part of next year’s pre-season competitions and National Leagues. GAA chiefs must have the courage of their convictions and stick with it. Teams will eventually adapt.

It has been argued that had it been in place for Cavanagh’s foul, it would not have been enough of a punishment, as Tyrone would still have 15 players. But they would be without their best player, so it might well have cost them dearly.

Indeed had they used all their subs – and that will be a possibility if some teams continue as they have been operating in recent years - they might not have had anyone to bring on. It will also mean that managers will have to think about their tactical substitutes more. You might not see so many first-half changes.

Kieran McGeeney came up with this proposal and we like it. It only applies to a foul denying a goal opportunity. Detractors say that it doesn’t go far enough and a goal should be given, much as a penalty try can be awarded in rugby.

We don’t agree. What Cavanagh did denied a clear goal opportunity but it didn’t deny a goal. He still had Packie McConnell to beat. His shot might have been saved. He might have kicked it too high as team-mate Stephen Gallogly did when one-on-one with McConnell. He might have hit the post as Bernard Brogan did against Cork.

So a penalty sounds right. A like-for-like solution, offering a clear goal chance from 11m with only the goalkeeper to beat, after a clear goal chance has been denied.

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