Growth stunted by predictable panic

A few years ago, what for this corner was an unusual abundance of fish in the local river was noted. More seasoned wildlife observers imparted a view that it was a sign that decent weather was afoot. For a brief period, it preceded exactly thus. Soon after, though, climatic conditions deteriorated and the learned opinion was that this development would be to the detriment of local anglers. That speculation proved wide of the mark.

What that little digression does is exemplify how much life revolves around opinion and – maybe more importantly – demonstrate how quickly things can change. Even allowing for the prevalence of knee jerk reactions in the GAA – the second standardised response after blind resistance to change – the furore that has erupted over the black card in the first few weeks of championship fare has been disheartening.

Towards the end of the NFL, pleasant surprise was expressed at how the new disciplinary dictum had seen the sprouting of shoots of good football. Much needed after an exhaustive period of mundane, negativity-driven football. Doubtless, promoters of such monotonous practices will go to great largesse in order to pinpoint how useful they have been to them.

Indeed, one is tempted to say that those who in the past decried other teams for allegedly employing a win at all costs mantra should book themselves a date with the nearest mirror. For much of what some entities have long been exhibiting has been at the greatest expense to the entertainment value of the viewing public.

Calculated cynicism exists in all sports, particularly at the upper echelons. Anyone willing to dispute this presumably still leaves money out for the tooth fairy. However, even though some have – on occasion at least – crossed the boundary between what’s calculated and downright malevolent – attribution of blame to one party over an epidemic that has regrettably prospered at every level and grade is utilisation of the obvious fall guy.

It hasn’t, mind you, stopped some of the central figures at the heart of debate from becoming perfectly balanced, they now have a chip on both shoulders. Credit, where it’s due, though, to Dublin. At the risk of being dubbed draconian, let the message go forth the Jim Gavin’s garnered top spot for themselves by playing the game the way it should be done.

More than that, as with many other aspects of modern Gaelic football, they’ve honed their management of the GAA’s newest divisive regulation to the extent that it wasn’t administered upon them once since its inception. Now, that particular statistic wasn’t known when the original comment about the game once again exuding shoots of positivity since the incorporation of the new deterrent, but it only serves to emphasise it.

Alas, as when eating grapes, after the initial nice taste, you hit the pip. Growth of positivity has been stunted by an unfortunately predictable outbreak of panic. Several incarnations of the new dictum went without reprimanded from those considered to be the two best dispensers of discipline in the game. It hardly, though, was drastic enough to necessitate the summoning of all of officialdom to an emergency summit, the likes of which would be more up the alley of certain political organisations at present.

The needle is nearly soldered to the old vinyl here, but, the first and perhaps only stipulation that will bring about the eradication of unsightly conduct is the proper and binding definition of a tackle in Gaelic football. There are other initiatives which could and should be instigated, such as the overdue re-introduction of the ‘mark’, a rule limiting the number of consecutive hand passes permitted and – at the least – exploration of the possibility of a trial period for a television match official.

Suggestions that an alteration in how games are governed are likely to be met with the same scorn as were red and yellow cards and the opening of Croke Park to other codes. Romantic notions that things are the same as they ever were simply don’t wash anymore, mind. Dynamics within the game have changed fundamentally, surely it follows, then, that governance of same should also evolve.

Sceptics scything at suggestions of a second referee should be mindful that basketball – a five-a-side activity – and tennis, with at most four competitors at any one time, use – in one case – three officials and in the other a video umpire.

Should, as would be hoped was the case, the panic surrounding the new structure eventually abate, a minimal investment would be wagered that a realisation will dawn that the black card actually nurtured the emergence of better quality fare than has been the staple diet for too long. Fears that new stringency in the policing of play would ultimately morph into a dilution of early season openness may also be watery.

Signposting games involving certain Ulster sides to add credence to such theories won’t stand as it has more to do styles of play. Other matches have shown sides scoring 0-21, 0-19 and 1-14. Hopefully that becomes the norm.

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