Too Many Rules In Gaelic Football?

GAA referee issues black card to Tipperary player

The introduction of ‘black card infractions’ sees Gaelic football’s rules altered yet again adding to an already complex and complicated rulebook. Are there are too many rules in Gaelic football today?

The GAA’s attempts to tackle fouls of a cynical nature is welcomed yet questions remain about the types of fouls which warrant black cards as well as the punishments for such offences.

Cynical or deliberate fouls which fall under the black card system are:

pulling an opponent to the ground, kicking or tripping an opponent and a body charge (the two other black card infractions are to remonstrate aggressively with an official and using abusive language to others).

A player who is guilty of such an offence is ordered off the pitch for the remainder of the game but can be replaced by another player. If three of these cards have already been issued then any further black card is the equivalent of a red card whereby the player cannot is ordered off the field and cannot be replaced.

Nonetheless, if a team is clinging on to a slender lead in the dying minutes of a game a black card is hardly a deterrent as a cynical foul may prevent a crucial score with the infringing player sent to the stands to be replaced by another, fresher team mate.

Gaelic football Black Card Rules
Gaelic football Black Card Rules

Further, there are other ways to cynically foul an opponent without receiving a black card. Take the following scenario: a player has skipped past the last defender and is outside the penalty area bearing down on goal. In a last ditch attempt to stop the attacker scoring a goal the defender pulls his opponents jersey back and stops him from scoring. The punishment? A yellow card and a free in are awarded. Instead of a certain goal two points have been saved and the offending player remains on the pitch.

This loophole exposes the inadequacies of the new system and underlines how it was ill-conceived as the above foul should certainly warrant a black card. If the GAA are determined to root out cynical play then all cynical or deliberate fouls should warrant the same punishment. Instead we now have a system where certain cynical fouls have entirely different punishments which can subsequently have huge implications on the outcome of matches.

Added to the nuances between black and yellow cards is that while a deliberate ‘body collide’ warrants a black card, ‘to charge an opponent’ results in a noting or ticking. One would think they are relatively the same yet if that’s not puzzling enough, there are 5 different types of charges in the rulebook!

The loopholes in the black card system have only further complicated the rule book with the new ‘advantage’ or ‘five second’ rule another baffling addition.

While a defined advantage rule has been in need for some time, its scope can only be somewhat welcome. The new rule allows a team an advantage for up to five seconds after a player has been fouled. However, five seconds is a long time in Gaelic football and while its purpose is to encourage a greater flow in the game it will in all likelihood have the opposite effect. We are now likely to see games being stopped more often and play being brought back by up to fifty or sixty metres for a free. This is because if a team has been awarded the advantage and then proceeds to lose the ball in this five second window, the play is brought back to where the foul originated.

It is no surprise then that debates over the rules seem to be a regular occurrence and not just confined to the latest rulebook updates. Players often become irate by a refereeing decision simply because they do not know or understand the myriad of laws. The same can be said about spectators as well as sports commentators or pundits and this lack of knowledge only adds unnecessary strain on the amateur referee.

There appears to be a certain level of disconnect that needs to be quickly addressed. While players should make it their own responsibility to become more knowledgeable about the rules, one off the field positive that can be taken away from the introduction of the black card system is the way in which some clubs have reacted by inviting referees to speak and explain the new rules system to players. If similar meetings were to take place at the beginning of each season then this would be beneficial to the development of the game as a whole.

Also, the rule book states the referee need only raise his hand for five seconds to indicate the advantage rule but generally speaking, if a player is being given advantage he is likely to be in front of the referee and not looking around to locate the referees arm. Here the GAA should be instructing the referee to signal but also to verbally communicate with the players – something they are not instructed to do. Too often referees fail to engage and communicate effectively with players throughout games and this tends to isolate the referee. If referees become more vocal they will appear more confident and authoritative in their decisions and this confidence breeds more respect from the players. The GAAs goal should be to achieve the same level of decorum between players and referees as seen in other sports – rugby in particular.

Nonetheless, the GAAs attempt to modernise and encourage a more free flowing game has only over complicated the rule book. There are simply too many rules in Gaelic football and attempts must be made to simplify the rule book and make it clearer for all.

Some suggestions would be to implement a black card or a ten minute sin-bin for all types of cynical or deliberate fouls. For the above mentioned scenario, the GAA should look at the soccer equivalent where a tackle on the last man warrants a straight red card. The current system of referees noting as well as issuing black, yellow and red cards must become standardised. Scrap the ticking and/or merge the black and yellow cards to just one colour. Standardising the rule book makes the rules easier to follow and also shifts the debate back on to what’s most important – the football.



**This article first appeared on Pundit Arena on February 22, 2014. Click here to view.**


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