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The sin bin in ladies’ football isn’t deterring fouls – so what’s the point?

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by Adam Moynihan

From Kerry’s perspective, the most frustrating thing about last Sunday’s All-Ireland final is that they didn’t put forward their best version of themselves. They have been electrifying at times this season but, for whatever reason, they looked a bit out of sorts against Dublin.

During the opening exchanges they really struggled to pin down the excellent Hannah Tyrrell, who kicked eight of the Dubs’ 11 first-half points. Contrary to some viral tweets, Tyrrell didn’t give birth to the seven-week-old baby she cradled in her arms at full-time – the credit there goes to her wife – but her performance was still incredible.

Going the other way, Kerry never got rolling offensively. They prefer to move the ball at pace, and they have the speed and skills to get from one end of the field to the other with real efficiency, but Dublin never allowed that to happen.

Mick Bohan’s side were clearly well drilled and they frequently engaged in tactical fouling to slow Kerry down. Stopping their opponents’ momentum gave them the opportunity to retreat and get their shape. When Kerry did attack, they invariably ran into a brick wall and wound up turning the ball over far too often.

Some of this was simply down to bad decision-making – either by not avoiding contact or by attempting passes that weren’t on – and the players will take ownership for those errors.

But it would be remiss of any reporter to overlook Dublin’s foul count in this game and also in the games preceding it. The eventual champions had 26 fouls to Kerry’s 14 in the final. In the semi-final they had 35 fouls to Cork’s 13. And in the quarter-final they had 30 fouls to Donegal’s 13 (stats via @GaelicStatsman on Twitter).

Over a three-match period, Dublin committed 91 fouls – over 30 fouls per game – while their opponents committed just 40 fouls between them (13.3 fouls per game). That’s a massive discrepancy.

For further context, teams in the men’s All-Ireland series committed an average of 14.4 fouls per game. Armagh v Monaghan was the match with the most fouls (38 in total, 19 per team). And that match went to extra time. A foul count of 30-plus for one team in one match isn’t at all common anywhere.

You might expect Dublin’s abnormal foul count to be reflected, at least to some extent, in their card count, but that wasn’t the case. Just one of their 91 fouls resulted in a yellow card. Eilísh O’Dowd was booked – and sin-binned – for pulling back an opponent with 11 minutes to go against Cork. The referee indicated that it was her third such infraction.

The official LGFA guide states that “repetition” of fouls like pushing or holding “shall constitute a yellow card offence”. It doesn’t state that three fouls equals a yellow. By definition, repetition means doing something again. But refs, players and coaches operate under the assumption that three is the magic number. Incidentally, the GAA rule book is less ambiguous. It says that offenders should be cautioned for committing this kind of foul a second time.

Whatever the official wording, it’s clear that men’s and women’s referees treat yellow cards very differently – even beyond the two/three-foul distinction. In the men’s All-Ireland series, a yellow card was issued once every 4.7 fouls. Meanwhile, in the women’s series, a yellow card was issued once every 72.8 fouls.

Obviously, the major difference between a yellow in men’s football and a yellow in women’s football is what happens next. Men can stay on the pitch. Women go to the sin bin for ten minutes. Do we see fewer yellow cards in ladies’ football because referees are less inclined to effectively send a player off – even temporarily – for minor infringements like holding or pushing?

When it comes down to it, cards are there to discourage players from fouling again. Therefore, it stands to reason that reluctance to issue cards leads to more fouls, which perhaps explains why a team like Dublin can effectively get away with committing over 30 fouls per game.

The sin bin rule, which was brought in as a deterrent to prevent foul play, may actually be deterring referees from punishing foul play. You have to wonder if ladies’ football would be better off without it.

With regards to this year’s final, Kerry can have no major complaints about the result. Dublin were the better side on the day and they deserved to win.

But if a team can consistently commit such a high number of fouls, go largely unpunished, and wind up as All-Ireland champions, it sets a negative precedent - and it also suggests that there might be something wrong with the laws of the game.

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‘There’s definitely more in me’ – Leahy feeling positive after close-run thing at nationals

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Kerry woman Sarah Leahy chats to Adam Moynihan about her recent outing at the National Outdoor Championships in Dublin. The Killarney Valley AC sprinter competed with the best of the best, including new Irish record holder Rhasidat Adeleke.

Adam Moynihan: You recently took part in the 100m final at the National Championships. How was that experience for you?

Sarah Leahy: Atmosphere-wise it was absolutely amazing. Just very good energy all around. And coming out for the final, obviously, Rhasidat brought a massive crowd. So that was really cool to be a part of because I don’t think there’s ever been a crowd that big at nationals before. To be in the final where so many people were there to watch her was obviously amazing.

What about the race itself?

I came fifth and ran a time of 11.74. On the day, with the whole excitement of it all, I was actually really happy with that. I was a bit disappointed but I was like, it’s a great day overall. I ran well, didn’t get a medal but I was really close. I didn’t get the perfect start like I did in the heat. So I was a little bit behind, but I just managed to come fifth in the end.

A week on, the excitement has kind of worn off, and I think there’s definitely a lot more in me. I could’ve pipped the third place But yeah, it is what it is. It was still good. I’m happy with it.

It was very tight for third place, wasn’t it?

Yeah, it was two-or-three-hundredths of a second and it was a blanket finish for four of us. So it was close but no cigar. Not this time. I came fifth last year as well, so I was hoping for at least fourth this year, but it ended up being the same. At least it wasn’t sixth! And there’s definitely more in me as well. Time-wise I’m just waiting for it to kind of happen a little bit. I believe it will. It was amazing to be in a race where a national record was broken.

And the standard was obviously very high across the board. All the big names were there.

It was a very high standard, yeah. Going in we kind of knew that first and second were gone (to Adeleke and Sarah Lavin). Everyone else was battling for that third medal and only one person could get it in the end. (Mollie O’Reilly got the bronze.) We were all close.

But overall I was super grateful to be in the mix, especially in a race that was that big. It’s one that will go down in history. It was a massive weekend and it was very enjoyable.

Rhasidat is a massive superstar now. What’s it like to run alongside her?

Rhasidat is a great athlete and a very nice girl. As you can see in interviews, she’s very humble. So to compete next to her, to literally be running in the lane right beside her, was amazing. I couldn’t have asked for more from the day in that respect. I thought she might have ran sub-11 because she did it before but she still got a national record. To be part of that race was a big deal for me.

Athletics in Ireland seems to be in a good place, particularly after the success the Irish team had in the recent European Championships in Rome. Does it feel like the sport is getting more attention and more recognition these days?

Oh 100%. Support for athletics has grown hugely in the last few years and I think it’ll continue to grow, especially with the success that Ireland had at the European Championships. I think the Olympics this year is going to drive that on even more because we have such great athletes going. The support is growing and rightfully so. The athletes are really getting the recognition they deserve. I think the future is very exciting for athletics in Ireland.

What about your own career? What’s next for you?

I have one last race of the season left, which is at the AAI Games on Sunday in Dublin. I’m hoping to just get a good run out, a good time, and execute the race well. Training will continue until the end of July, I’ll get a month off, and then we’re back training for indoors next year. I love indoors. I think I excel at that. There’s European Indoors and World Indoors next year, so to qualify for them would be a huge, huge goal.

As for outdoors, I’d like to get on the Irish relay team, but I’ll be focussing on indoors first. It should be a good year.

Are you enjoying it?

Yeah, I’m really enjoying it. I think sometimes you might put too much pressure on yourself and try to get a PB in every race but this year I’ve really learned that I’ve done the training, so it will happen when it happens. Just go out and run and let your body do its thing. And I’m actually really enjoying competing this year. I know I’m going to continue enjoying it for the next few years.

With the surrounding support of the club and coaches and my training group, it’s all going really well for me at the moment. I have no complaints at all. I’m very lucky.

Thanks for your time, Sarah, and all the best for the rest of the season.

Thank you very much, Adam. It was lovely talking to you.

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Kingdom ladies hoping for repeat performance against Royals

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LGFA All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final

Kerry v Meath

Saturday 5.15pm

Austin Stack Park

Live on TG4

Just like they did in 2023, the Kerry ladies will take on Meath in the All-Ireland quarter-final in Tralee this weekend and a repeat of the result they earned that wintry day 12 months ago will do just fine.

Last year’s encounter at Stack Park was a classic game of two halves as the home team ran up a 10-point lead with the unseasonable elements at their collective back.

Meath, who at the time were on the hunt for their third All-Ireland in a row, fought back admirably in the second period but the Kerry women held firm and won by four (2-8 to 0-10) after an emotionally charged final quarter.

Síofra O’Shea was Kerry’s top scorer on the day with 1-1 and her return from injury in recent weeks is a major boost to Darragh Long and Declan Quill’s squad.

The Kingdom made light work of Meath when the sides met in the league in March as Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh kicked 0-8 in a 1-15 to 0-5 victory. Shane McCormack’s charges subsequently lost to Dublin in the Leinster final by 18 points before finishing second to Armagh in the All-Ireland group stage.

Marion Farrelly, Emma Duggan and Meadhbh Byrne caught the eye in their recent win over Tipperary, combining for 2-11 of the team’s total of 2-15.

Former Player of the Year Vikki Wall could be in line for a dramatic comeback after a spell with the Ireland Rugby Sevens team.

As for Kerry, they should arrive at the last eight in decent spirits having put in their best display of the season so far against Waterford three weeks ago. The Munster champions were excellent and eventually ran out 4-13 to 0-9 winners with skilful forward Hannah O’Donoghue (1-3) and all-action half back Aishling O’Connell (0-2) particularly impressive.

Meath are a capable opponent on their day, though, so another professional performance will be required if Kerry want to keep their All-Ireland dream alive.

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