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comment One wonders if today's black-card debate in hurling is being influenced by Limerick’s current dominance

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Dessie Hutchinson of Waterford in action against Limerick players, left to right, Seán Finn, Declan Hannon, Barry Nash, and Darragh O'Donovan during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match

Dessie Hutchinson of Waterford in action against Limerick players, left to right, Seán Finn, Declan Hannon, Barry Nash, and Darragh O'Donovan during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match

Dessie Hutchinson of Waterford in action against Limerick players, left to right, Seán Finn, Declan Hannon, Barry Nash, and Darragh O'Donovan during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match

The 2015 Munster final between Kerry and Cork was a cracker. Fionn Fitzgerald swung over an outrageous equaliser in the third minute of stoppage time to earn Kerry a second chance.

I still remember the game – and not just because it was a classic.

I watched the live TV coverage in the press room in Croke Park together with colleagues who were reporting on the Leinster hurling final.

Sitting around another table away from the TV were at least half a dozen of the country’s best known hurling personalities now earning their crust as analysts with television, radio, and newspapers.

Remarkably, as the excitement reached fever pitch in Killarney, they never raised their heads to catch a glimpse of what was happening. They continued to sip their coffees and debate some finite hurling theory.

I supposed I shouldn’t have been shocked. There is an inherent snobbery in hurling.

Woe betide anybody foolish enough to compare the greatest field game in the world to the so-called bog ball game of Gaelic football.

So, I guess it was no surprise when the hurling fraternity reacted with disdain to the idea that their game might benefit from the introduction of the black card and the sin-bin.

Cynical fouling in hurling - perish the thought. There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Nonetheless, the GAA’s Standing Committee of the Playing Rules brought forward a motion to introduce a black card and sin-bin in hurling to the 2020 GAA Congress.

Having analysed 20 high-profile hurling matches between 2017 and 2019, the committee found that 48 per cent of fouls involved ‘cynical or disruptive’ conduct. Committee chair David Hassan bluntly warned that a failure to confront cynical playing in hurling would effectively be endorsing it

The opposition has been spearheaded away from Congress by GAA managers. For many years Kilkenny’s Brian Cody has been the ‘voice' of hurling.

Few people are brave enough to challenge his view, never mind contradict him.

He was particularly withering in his comments.

“I have absolutely no understanding why there’s a black card being talked about even. The rules are the rules are the rules, you are fouled you get a free, end of story. Hasn’t changed. It’s hilarious, you know.”

The language used in the Congress debate was equally emotive with the Antrim Chair Ciarán McCavana saying that the idea of a black card in hurling was as ‘as welcome in Antrim as Joe Brolly on the Sunday Game'.

The motion went down in flames – defeated on a 210 to 46 vote. So great was the margin of defeat the proposal couldn’t be debated at Congress for another three years.

But here we are, 24 hours ahead of the first ever virtual GAA Congress and top of the agenda is a motion to introduce a sin-bin in hurling.

Despite a late attempt by the Gaelic Players Association to have the motion deferred until a special Congress is held in September the chances are the proposal will receive the required 60 percent support to see it being implemented on an experimental basis in the 2021 championship.

It represents the fastest and biggest volte-face in the modern history of the GAA. So, what happened?

For starters, the Playing Rules committee became inventive and dropped the black card proposal and just for good measure incorporated football into the motion which seeks to outlaw cynical play.

The new motion calls for a sin bin and a penalty to be awarded in both hurling and football should a cynical foul be committed on an attacking player inside the 20-metre line or the semi-circle that is deemed to deny the chance of a goal.

Footballers deemed guilty of this offence will also be shown a black card and sent to the bin for ten minutes.

Hurlers will also be sent to the bin for ten minutes, but they will be shown a yellow card.

Cynical fouls in hurling are listed as those when a player is pulled down, tripped with hand, arm, leg, foot, or hurley, or there is a careless use of the hurley.

It could merely be a coincidence, but one wonders whether the U-turn is influenced by Limerick’s current dominance of hurling.

Hurling’s big three, Kilkenny, Tipperary, and Cork are not fond of those who upset the status quo. And Limerick has provoked the bears.

Like all great teams they were well versed in the darker arts of the game.

The blatantly cynical fouls that Declan Hannon and William O’Donoghue inflicted on Dessie Hutchinson and Stephen Bennett in last year’s All-Ireland final crystallised this issue.

We await with interest tomorrow’s Zoom debate on Motion 20.

At least Kilkenny cannot be accused of cynicism in the boardroom – they will again vote against the motion to introduce the sin-bin in hurling. But it appears they will be in a minority this time around.

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