UCD Assistant Coach and Football Review Committee (FRC) member Tim Healy was a persuasive voice backing the black card proposals to confront cynical play in Gaelic Football in last week’s GAA Congress in Derry.

It had been predicted that the proposals drawn up by the FRC would fail to win sufficient support, as they required a two-thirds majority. But a powerful final sales pitch from the floor, including the Bray Businessman and former player, proved decisive and after a tense wait the electronic voting system showed 70.82% in favour.

The black card sanction, which will come into effect from January 1, 2014, was the biggest sell from the FRC out of a series of other proposals which were put forward for review, including the mark, a 30 metre penalty for delaying frees and clean pick ups.  It had faced increasing opposition in recent days, with most Munster and Ulster counties revealing they were going to oppose the reforms. FRC Chairman Eugene McGee spoke of his relief after the outcome. “It will be a landmark decision because it will show the world that the Association is concerned about the quality of football. It will show we mean business”.

A new category of infractions will be added to the Official Guide to be classified as cynical behaviour and will be punished by a black card. Offences include deliberately tripping an opponent by hand, leg or foot, deliberately colliding with an opponent after he has played the ball away to take him out of the play, threatening abusive or provocative language or gestures to an opponent or a teammate, and remonstrating in an aggressive manner with a match official.

The number of subs allowed will be increased to six to facilitate the rule change. The first three players sent off on a black card can be replaced.

It was with vehement passion and multiple motive addresses that the momentum of this rule change swung from opposition to favouring the proposal, with an estimated 100 voters undecided heading into the Congress’ final session. Only two speakers spoke out against the black card motions, one from Cork and one from Tyrone. A concern highlighted was that the proposals might encourage more cynicism with teams trying to manipulate the black card system and get players sent off.

But the protests were lost in a sea of speeches led by Healy. He stressed that every motion had been discussed in detail with referees and they were assured that their introduction would make refereeing less taxing. “There is something for the skilful county player who deserves better than cynical treatment. They’re not earth-shattering or very radical; we believe they are a practical and logical response. We urge you to stand up for the future of Gaelic Football to make our great game even better”.

The ruling is set to rectify an omnipresent trait of deliberate fouling at Inter-county level, in some cases it being the cornerstone to a team’s combative defensive strategy. As Paul Earley argued, “Managers say the yellow card system is fine- does the current system which allows 30 different players to pick up a yellow card and stay on the pitch, does that help to reduce, or encourage and support, cynical play? The current sanctions are proving to be no deterrent. We will make it unprofitable and see these fouls greatly reduced and eventually eliminated”. And vociferous European delegate Tony Bass added, “The black card will punish the thugs, the cheats, the hypocritical managers who stand on the sideline and say “take him out”.” On a good day for Gaelic Football, talent will now be freer to shine and flourish.

Another agreement passed at Congress was the delegates voting for Croke Park and other GAA stadia to be made available for the IRFU bid to host the 2023 or 2027 Rugby World Cup, a decision welcomed by the Government.

-Conall Devlin