Consistency takes backseat come August

Ah, August. That time of the year when referees are that bit slower to reach for the whistle and shy away from making the big calls.

Consistency takes backseat come August

Mere conspiracy-thinking, you say? May we point you in the direction of the black card caveat that had applied to All-Ireland football finals before it was realised it contradicted the existing match-based ban.

Endorsed by referees chief Pat McEnaney, the Football Review Committee proposed the measure that there would be an amnesty on one-match cumulative suspensions for three black cards or three double yellow cards for the final.

After gauging widespread opinion, the feeling was that no player should be made to pay by missing out on the third Sunday in September.

As McEnaney said to this newspaper this month in 2012: “It’s such a big stage that you don’t want a fella missing the next game. You could blow up the amateur status of players but you would create less aggro if you eliminate All-Ireland finals from that idea.”

When we complain about a lack of consistency, we must remember that referees want to be humane around this time of the season. Brian Crowe in 2007 refused to review his decision not to send off Noel O’Leary in an All-Ireland semi-final and was hardly seen again on the inter-county stage.

Two years later, John Bannon of this parish chose not to upgrade a yellow card he issued to John Miskella. He later put forward a motion to Congress, which was later amended and passed, to remove referees from retrospective decisions.

The GAA, and you can understand their point too, insist on a level playing field throughout the season but just how realistic is that? Can you think off the top of your head who was sent off in an All-Ireland semi- final in either code? Off ours, Tipperary’s Brian O’Meara in 2001.

Certainly with the black card, a more softly-softly approach appears to have been taken as the football championship has moved closer to September. That one black card was shown over the four All-Ireland quarter-finals wasn’t an indication of how non-cynical the games were but more so an indictment of the officiating.

In March, Eddie Kinsella sent Richie Feeney to the line for a fourth minute black card bodycheck on Kevin Bonnie in the All-Ireland club final.

On Saturday, Eoghan O’Gara committed a similar foul on Colin Walshe in the third minute and Marty Duffy showed him a yellow.

The unpunished deliberate bodychecks that pockmarked the Mayo-Cork game discredited the game. How did Lee Keegan avoid a black card at the end? We’ll never know. Donegal and Armagh? Best not to go there.

Hurling-wise, the lack of consistency can be evidenced through the prism of Clare. Last month, Podge Collins was correctly sent off for pulling the faceguard of David Redmond. On Sunday, JJ Delaney and Tom Condon did the same to Shane Dowling and Eoin Larkin and escaped any carded punishment.

Astonishingly, there was no mention of the incidents on either Sunday Game programme.

Last month, Jack Browne was issued a second yellow card for a foul on Liam Óg McGovern as he ran towards goal. On Sunday, Donal O’Grady trips Richie Power, denying him all but a certain goal, and avoided a second booking.

Last month, Brendan Bugler was rightly red-carded for a hurley jab at McGovern. On Sunday, O’Grady committed a wilder pull across the helmet of Joey Holden and was yellow carded. What must Pa Horgan have thought of that?

James McGrath, who sent off Horgan last July, blew for just 12 frees in Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final. In Clare’s Munster semi-final against Cork, he awarded 13 against them in the first half. Of course, games can be different to others but was the intensity on Sunday all that removed from what we saw in Thurles back in June?

The GAA might like to put out the perception that a game at the start of the Championship is officiated just the same as those towards the end of it.

That’s fanciful.

If that was truly the case, the sidelines once cleared by the GAA wouldn’t be populated as they are now. Allowances are made, rules and regulations are relaxed and consistency takes a backseat.

Ryan has earned another shot with Limerick

Back in April, this column referred to TJ Ryan as a lame duck manager; the reason being he had openly criticised the county board. How could his position be anything but untenable? The executive, in fairness to them, were big about it and chose to let him stay on for the remainder of the season. And they were rewarded. Ryan steadied a ship, ably assisted by a panel who refused to let Donal O’Grady’s departure define the rest of their season.

There’s also a lot to be said for having a Limerick man at the helm. Ryan deals in passion and there’s quite clearly a deep connection with the group of players. Just how long he can play that passion card is a pertinent question but the indications are that he can develop.

He’s had to learn on his feet. He admitted he trained the players too hard prior to the Munster final. He could afford to being so frank after beating Wexford but he showed his humility in listening to their concerns and taking them on board. He’s done enough to merit a second season in charge in 2015.

Right now, he’s a manager without a mandate from club representatives, but in a county crying out for continuity, the board would do well to ratify him as soon as possible and start plans for next year.

Dublin success goes beyond the Blue Wave

Remember Dublin’s Blue Wave? Their strategic plan launched shortly after their footballers’ 2011 success? Confident in places, overambitious in others, two of the goals set out was the capital receiving the same funding as provinces do and a permanent place on the GAA’s management committee.

What ever became of those overreaching targets?

They may have been unfeasible, and just as unrealistic was the objective set out in the document to win an All-Ireland senior football title every three years. Dublin have already exceeded those expectations and look on course to add a third in four seasons.

Can Donegal stop them? Were Jim McGuinness to manage a victory, it would trump their 2012 All-Ireland success. That’s how remarkable it would be, but the chances are slim and neutrals are already looking towards Mayo and Kerry as the biggest hurdles standing in the path of the champions.

The comparisons being drawn with Kilkenny in their pomp may be premature but Jim Gavin has cultivated a spirit and a common bond that can be likened to that established by Brian Cody.

At the time of Blue Wave being published, then manager Pat Gilroy dismissed the goal as “unpractical”. He was right, but for the wrong reason. Dublin are to be dreaded.


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