The day the yellow and red cards got their first airing in Killarney

May 19th, 2009
by Weeshie Fogarty

An article which appeared in the archive section of this paper last week certainly invoked a multitude of memories for me as it referred to a match between Kerry and Offaly which I refereed in Killarney 30 long years ago, May 1979. Despite the fact that it would only be a so called challenge match it carried the possibility of literally changing for ever the face of Gaelic football which we know today.

The game was being played to raise funds for the late great Austin Stacks footballer and hurler Garry Scollard who had suffered very serious spinal injuries in an accident returning from a trip with the Kerry hurlers. This very worthy benefit was been organised jointly by the Fitzgerald Stadium Committee, the Kerry County Board and Garry's club Austin Stacks. The late Michael O'Connor, one of the great men in the history of Kerry GAA, was secretary of the stadium at the time and it was he who approached me following advice from Croke Park as to taking charge of this particular match.

So why was this seemingly unimportant challenge game to remain so vivid in my memory and awaken so many memories which came flooding back as I read "Kerry Down The Years" recounting past pages from The Kerryman? Well, Michael O'Connor explained all to me when he visited my home a few weeks before the event. And what he had to say in relation to certain proposals could prove to be hugely revolutionary in the overall context of Gaelic football. Croke Park officials, in their wisdom, had decided to use this game between Kerry and Offaly as a try out of new rules being proposed, which they felt would greatly improve and speed up the playing of Gaelic football.

My instructions were short and simple. Players would be allowed just two solos and one hop of the ball when in possession. Also the yellow and red cards, now such an accepted part of the game, were to be introduced for the first time in an attempt to explain to the spectators the seriousness of particular fouls. This was a God sent for the organisers of the game and it immediately elevated a seemingly unimportant fixture in Killarney to national prominence. The media jumped on the bandwagon just as they did recently when the recent experimental rules were being tried out.

My phone began to hum as journalists sought my thoughts on the upcoming experiment. Questions such as, are we just following soccer? will you issue the red card and if so will a player be banned for his county's next game? and will you be visiting the two teams in the run up to the fixture? etc were some of the questions being put to me. I diverted all queries as far as possible to Croke Park. The Kerryman's photographer Michelle Cooper Galvin pictured me flashing the infamous red and yellow cards as I might in the forthcoming match. The experimental rules were creating a little bit of frenzy and I was in the middle of it.

However, there was one little problem as the build up the game continued. Not one official from Croke Park had contacted me high up or low down. And as for the actual red and yellow cards themselves, not a mention from headquarters. I was expecting something in the post every day. Friday dawned, the postman came and went. Nothing. On Saturday I rang Croke Park for advice and a little bit of encouragement. No answer. It was the weekend and the offices were closed down and all staff was off until Monday.

It was all great fun for those hopping the ball to me in relation to what I should do with the cards on Sunday. However, it was serious business for the players and officials of both counties as the championship loomed and I would be responsible for any serious consequences during or after the game. So the situation was, the yellow and red cards were being introduced to Gaelic football for the very first time but there were no cards available for the occasion.

Necessity is the mother of invention, they say. I raided my daughters Denise and Carol Ann schoolbags as two of their copy books had covers of red and yellow. Two squares of each colour were cut out, placed back to back, sellotaped together and, hey presto, the first cards were ready for "official" use in an inter-county football match.

I visited both dressing rooms before the game and guaranteed managers Mick O'Dwyer and Eugene McGee that I would not be flashing any red cards that day. A huge crowd turned up, the trial was a great success and to this day every time I meet Mick O'Dwyer he enthuses greatly about those rules. No continuous basketball passing as we see today, quick release of the ball, high scoring and long accurate kicking.

Oh, and least I forget, there was one yellow card issued for the sake of the crowd. It got a huge cheer as Mick Wright, that former great Offaly defender, became the very first man in the annals of Gaelic games to receive a yellow card. So there is one for your quiz. And by the way I never did hear from Croke Park after that game.

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