FRC chairman thrilled to defy odds in black card vote
Not since 2005 and the decision to open Croke Park to soccer and rugby has a GAA Congress attracted as much attention as it did in Derry on Saturday when a massive swing in opinion saw the black card adopted into Gaelic football's rule book for the beginning of next season.
During the week, as the voting patterns of several well-represented counties became known, it looked as though the Football Review Committee's most controversial submission would be heavily defeated. Yet when the electronic votes were tallied on Saturday, it passed with 71pc of the vote, well clear of the two-third majority required for a rule change, after impassioned pleas from several members of Eugene McGee's committee.
"It was emotional alright because the stakes were very high," admitted a relieved and emotional McGee after the dye had been cast.
"Had it failed, I don't think we would have been going back again every five or ten years. The 66pc... getting that is nearly impossible and we ended up with 70pc, which is an incredible result.
"Talking to all the people who were well disposed to the motions and to me personally, they were trying to be nice to me. They were sure the votes were as good as counted.
"So the change, from the practical side of getting the motion through, that was brought about mainly by the speakers at the debate."
That didn't stop a flurry of condemnations and doom warnings from players and, indeed, some inter-county managers on social media, reflecting the 90pc opposition to the motion revealed by a survey of players conducted by the GPA.
Yet McGee was insistent that the new rule, and its five associated motions – all of which passed in land slides – would ultimately be to the long-term greater good of the game.
"Neither the managers or the players want a sea change," he reckoned. "They're perfectly happy perfecting a style of play as the rules are. There was a flood of tweets from players and managers straight away saying it will take the physicality out of the game.
"These are emotional responses. The GPA did a survey and I don't know what the validity of it was but the results showed that 90pc of players were against the black card.
"That just shows that the players don't want change because they're happy with the system they're in. But there is a lot of negativity in the system they're in.
"The players will have to adjust and they'll have to learn to stop those nasty sort of fouls."
Somewhat surprisingly, Motion 16 – increasing the distance a ball is moved forward for dissent or for delaying a quick free from 13 to 30 metres – failed narrowly to garner the two-thirds majority support it required to pass, while the 'mark' and the clean pick-up were both well-beaten.
"The black card was the thing," said McGee, insisting that motion alone was the most pressing for the FRC. "Without the black card, 10 motions would have failed automatically. Getting that past was crucial."
Other motions passed included the advantage rule and the provision for scoring a point with an open-hand strike while a public clock at championship matches will also be introduced from this season.
Similarly, Hawkeye will be used on a trial basis in Croke Park while teams will, as of next year, be entitled to adorn two sponsors on their jerseys.
Meanwhile, Minister for Sport Leo Varadkar praised the GAA for another of its passed motions; the decision to open up several of its grounds to the IRFU to used in the 2023 or 2027 Rugby World Cup in the event of a successful bid.
"The support of the GAA is a very important element in relation to any future bid by the IRFU to host the Rugby World Cup in Ireland," said Varadkar in a statement. "I am very pleased that Congress has approved this motion to allow the inclusion of Croke Park and other GAA stadiums in the list of venues for matches if Ireland is selected to host the tournament. This spirit of support and co-operation between the two sporting organisations is very welcome and I'm delighted by the decision."
Elsewhere, it was an historic day for the Camogie Association at Westport as Congress decided to make membership an individual responsibility rather than the current club-based system.
From April 1, 2014 there will now be four separate categories of members: over-18 players, youth players (U-18), administrators/coaches/referees/non-players that are over 18 and a social membership for over 18s that are not seeking involvement in a club's administrative or games-related affairs.
At present, each club pays a €300 affiliation fee to the Camogie Association that covers all its members.
From next year, each adult member will pay €23, with €5 of that retained by the county board, €2 by the provincial council and the rest entering central coffers.
The fee for youth members will be €13. Again, the relevant county board will retain €5, with €2 going to the provincial council and the remainder belonging to the Camogie Association.
The result will be that whereas membership is responsible for just 10pc of the association's income at present, that percentage will increase to 29pc of a greater overall figure.