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Thursday 25 May 2017

Dermo gives black the red card...

Connolly cries foul on rules tinkering

St. Vincent’s captain Diarmuid Connolly is pictured ahead of the AIB Leinster Senior Football Club Championship Final on Sunday next. Photo: Sportsfile
St. Vincent’s captain Diarmuid Connolly is pictured ahead of the AIB Leinster Senior Football Club Championship Final on Sunday next. Photo: Sportsfile
Diarmuid Connolly celebrates after victory over Kerry in the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

It's official: Diarmuid Connolly is no fan of the black card.

The Dublin ace was a recipient just a few weeks ago, playing for St Vincent's against Palatine. And his perennial county shadow, Mayo's Lee Keegan, saw black for pulling down Connolly during the All-Ireland SFC final replay.

But his gripe is not specific to any one incident; he just feels the punishment frequently does not fit the crime.

"There was no need for it," he insisted. "Just because Seán Cavanagh pulled a guy down and some clown in an RTE studio decides to throw the toys out of the pram really and make it more than it was."

Tirade

No doubt the legal eagle that is Joe Brolly will be quick to correct Connolly on one point of chronological fact. Namely the rule had already been passed by Congress in March 2013, several months before Cavanagh's goal-saving rugby tackle on Monaghan's Conor McManus prompted Brolly's famous TV tirade, but had yet to come into effect.

Connolly was speaking at a media event in Dublin yesterday promoting next Sunday's AIB Leinster club SFC final, between St Vincent's and Rhode in Portlaoise (2.0).

But questions about the GAA's propensity for tinkering with football's rules elicited the most animated response from the Vincent's skipper.

The 'mark' will become the latest such change in the New Year. "I haven't even read the rule, to be honest with you. It's not going to be a factor in this competition anyway," he pointed out.

But Connolly is adamant there wasn't too much wrong with the game in the first place. "I think it's silly bringing in these rules. There is nearly one every two years," he complained.

"I don't think it's benefitting the game. It's putting bad publicity on the game."

As for the black card, he argued: "Referees are coming under scrutiny for it. Players are coming under scrutiny for it. If they wanted, in my opinion, to make a rule, it would be a red card for a clear goalscoring opportunity, a yellow card for cynical play. You have your two cards, there they are."

He expanded: "You see in the All-Ireland final, a guy pulling a fella down, how far away from goal, two minutes into a game and it's a black card. That's the reality of it. But it was brought in because someone was pulled down in front of goal and they had a clear goalscoring opportunity."

Does it heap too much pressure on referees?

"Absolutely, on everybody. Not just referees, on players."

He continued: "I've got one black card in my whole time playing it, but I don't play in a position where I have to make those tackles all the time. I can pull out of a challenge in the half-forward line, but you can't do that when someone goes around you. The letter of the law says a deliberate pull-down is a black card.

"Like, how many times do you deliberately pull someone down? You might be leaving a hand in, in the tackle. A free is the right call. A black card and you lose that player for the whole game.

"You put enough into training and playing for Gaelic football, and for it to be taken away from you for one challenge when it's not forceful, or it's not deliberate that you are going to hurt anyone. There was a card for that already - it's called a red card. You see that in every other sport."

How about a 'sin bin' alternative?

"Tried that already. That's another rule that they tried and it didn't work."

He was more sanguine about introducing a TMO - a la rugby - saying it would be "nice in some situations."

Connolly was a central player in last summer's ongoing debate about the so-called 'targeting' of marquee players, in the wake of one flashpoint against Westmeath, his double-yellow dismissal against Donegal and Keegan's controversial marking job in the two All-Ireland finals.

Bemused

But he sounded bemused when told of John Costello's claim - in his secretary's report to annual Dublin convention - that Connolly was "struck about six times before the ball was ev en thrown in" during one unidentified SFC game.

"Not that I remember anyway. I don't know what game he was looking at. Some lad hit me six times before the ball was thrown in?" he queried.

"Maybe it did happen, I don't know."

As for targeting, he concluded: "It's part of the game. It's a physical game. Opponents go toe to toe with each other. I wouldn't call it targeting as such. If it's within the rules of the game, fair enough. If it's not, then it should be dealt with by the officials."

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