The ironies of Stephen O’Brien’s proposed, cumulative one-match ban are worth mentioning. Firstly, the Kerry forward stands to miss a game because the GAA adopted what was considered a fairer, ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy.
Brought in along with the black card, in 2014, it meant any player who picked up three black cards, three double yellow cards, or three yellow-and-black (red card) combinations in one season (league and championship) had to serve a one-game ban.
Before match-based suspensions, players who were shown two red cards in the same 48-week timeframe had their penalty doubled. In 2010 and 2011, Paul Galvin and Tomás Ó Sé had bans doubled to 16 weeks and eight weeks, respectively (Ó Sé was punished similarly in 2012). Time-based bans, while still existing for the higher offence categories, were adjudged to be too harsh.
Secondly, it’s partly because of the experimental rules that O’Brien is in this predicament. Because he was permitted back on the field after being blacked and sin-binned, for dragging down Eoghan Kerin in the league game in February, he was able to incur a yellow card and, therefore, a red card.
As they translated to 10-minute sin-bins in this year’s league, black cards alone didn’t count towards cumulative bans. However, reds do. There has been some misunderstanding about that, as the black card was issued to O’Brien in last Saturday week’s win over Meath in Navan.
Just because O’Brien is the attacking player doesn’t absolve him of fault, as much as he should earn a reprieve because the Meath defender stepped into his path. Had his opponent held his ground, O’Brien would not have a case.
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So sure of being cleared, the Kenmare man had no hesitation in taking Connor McAliskey to ground, with Kerry four points to the good and time all but up. Sure, O’Brien was taking one for the team — “a hero”, as Seán Cavanagh called him — but this wasn’t Roy Keane versus Juventus, in 1999: O’Brien did so confident there would be no consequence for the cynicism.
As we have seen with Austin Gleeson, Noel O’Leary, and John Miskella, in the past, there is a reluctance on the part of referees at least to endorse a committee room move to suspend a player from an All-Ireland final.
As for the philosophical question, despite the protests of players and ex-players on social media, an All-Ireland semi-final shouldn’t be treated differently to any other league or championship game. When they, too, are crying out for consistency from officials, they can’t argue with it being applied across the disciplinary spectrum.
Dublin supporters will also rightly question Pat Spillane’s call for a semi-final amnesty for his fellow Kerryman O’Brien, when he wasn’t half as sympathetic to Diarmuid Connolly two years ago.
Connolly obviously pushed linesman Ciarán Brannigan, but the three-month punishment hardly fit the crime.
Mention of Dublin is a segue to the appointment of the final referee, with Meath’s David Gough favoured for it. But Kerry have a difficulty with him, stemming back to the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final, when Dublin scored soon after a bad tackle by Kevin McManamon on Peter Crowley was not noticed by the match official.
Gough — who was approached by then selector Mikey Sheehy at the final whistle, and had match programmes thrown in his direction as he left the field — later admitted he hadn’t seen the incident.
Sheedy told the Irish Examiner, last year: “David Gough came out and whatever he said about the Peter Crowley incident, but I’ve watched that game a few times and that wasn’t the only mistake he made in that game.”
Gough acknowledged the effort in March 2017, before acquainting himself with Kerry in that season’s All-Ireland semi-final replay. “I know I got it wrong. I didn’t get it wrong on purpose. I just didn’t see it.”
He took charge of the Kerry-Tyrone Division 1 opener earlier this year, but as former Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice said to this newspaper last December: “In the league, you don’t take much notice.
“When there are big decisions called wrong on big days in Croke Park, it can have a huge impact.
“In that 2016 semi, (referee) David Gough had a very poor game. Inconsistency between referees is one thing, but from the same ref in the same game?
“That’s the one that’s really frustrating. He admitted the mistakes he made, after, but I felt he was equally bad in the 2017 replayed semi-final against Mayo.”
Safe to say, Kerry will at least make representations, about their concerns, to the national referees’ appointment committee. How successful they will be is up for debate, when Gough is due a final by this stage and, apart from some timing issues and that borderline Keith
Higgins black card against Donegal, has put in strong performances this year. It’s a busy time for Kerry and all before a ball is kicked in their bid to prevent Dublin’s five-in-a-row.
Last week, we brought you what could be a bonus point lifebuoy for the Super 8s.
Reaction to it was varied — bonus points are by their very nature arbitrary — but then Super 8 is close to drowning, and such measures should be considered urgently.
We also mentioned an alternative structure to the Super 8, for the sake of giving provincial champions two bites of the cherry.
The likes of Dublin and Tyrone had backed the idea of provincial winners who lost their knockout All-Ireland quarter-final getting another opportunity to make the semifinals, a fair proposal in anyone’s language.
With Donegal in mind this year, it seems even fairer but it would also avoid dead rubbers.
On Twitter last week, we explained how it might work and it does lend from current county championship formats such as Kerry and Down’s.
The provincial winners would face the qualif iers in the Round 1 stage of the quarter-final phase with all four winners progressing to Round 2A (preliminary semifinals) and the two victors going through to separate All-Ireland semi-finals.
The four Round 1 losers would face off in Round 2B with the winners taking on the Round 2A losers in Round 3 for the remaining semi-final places.
The four provincial champions would all have home advantage in Round 1 with all other games taking place at neutral venues.
All matches would have to be decided on the day. Should Dublin and Kerry win Leinster and Munster again next year, they will be in the same Super 8 group.
Under this proposed system, were they to win their Round 1 quarter-finals they would face each other in Round 2.
Lessons, not learnings. We’re not having any of that en vogue, contrived, word coined by some charlatan of a sports psychologist.