Neither Seán Hurson nor David Coldrick shouted “help” on Saturday evening but their actions screamed it. If Hurson had eyes on the back of his head, he may have made a better fist of things in Austin Stack Park, Tralee but by the end of the game he didn’t trust the pair he had. Coldrick is a lot more experienced than his Tyrone colleague yet he too struggled to come to terms with just how vitriolic the game had become as he took charge of Donegal’s clash with Tyrone.
Neither could truly be blamed but they will be because they are isolated. The GAA will tell us all about how much linesmen are working in tandem with referees or that umpires are more pro-active than ever in alerting the man in black to incidents. But he is still on his own. He is the one responsible for his domain. It’s a lesser point but are linesmen so keen to help out the referee-in-charge if they are competing with him for future appointments?
These days, when any of Dublin, Kerry, Donegal and Tyrone face one another, they don’t so much meet as collide. Throw Mayo and possibly Monaghan into the mix and the waft of gunpowder fills the nostrils. Peace-keeping in such volatile environments isn’t going to be achieved by one man alone.
Excluding the sideline official, he is supposed to lead a team of six in a game involving 30 players on a pitch size that can extend to 145 metres by 90m. In elite Australian Rules, there are three field umpires (referees), four boundary umpires (linesmen) and four goal umpires covering an elliptical-shaped field that is a maximum of 185m in length and 155m in width populated by 36 players. As supervision goes, Gaelic football is in the ha’penny place.
Those who argue there are reasons for more eyeballs on a game of Rules don’t fully appreciate just how hateful top level Gaelic football matches have become. Only last week, Eddie Kinsella admitted last year’s Kerry-Donegal game was “un-refereeable”.
It is becoming all too much for them and, without trying to draw too much attention, they have said as much with their support for the use of video evidence or the introduction of a TV match official. However, the GAA’s powers-that-be aren’t in favour of it on the grounds that it might affect the game as a spectacle.
But when referees are helpless to reprimand infringements and violent play then the game as a spectacle suffers. Not that you would have known it by RTÉ League Sunday’s pithy coverage of the Dublin-Kerry, Donegal-Tyrone games. Not only was little afforded to the matches of the weekend but their Comical Ali approach to the unseemliness in both was exactly that: comical.
Nobody is looking for martial law. Most certainly, we have to accept the rough with the smooth. That teams are exhibiting dislike for one another makes their clashes all the more beguiling but ripped jerseys and off-the-ball spats are becoming all too frequent.
With the introduction of the Super 8 next year, the best teams will face each other more often meaning more venom, more fury, more flashpoints. The GAA can arrange all the respect handshakes they want but it’s authority, not a contrived act of civility, that players will respond to. It’s time to take the advice of the five men quoted above and double the guards.
Put hurling first and play it second
Those who stayed around in Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day wouldn’t have failed to notice just how the stadium emptied following the All-Ireland senior hurling club final. The great colour and noise brought by the ‘Cuala Ultras’ was noticeably absent for the game billed as the main event, between Dr Crokes and Slaughneil.
The lack of atmosphere shouldn’t be excused for that forgettable football decider, but the murmur of indifference, even during what was by far a better first-half between Crokes and Slaughtneil, couldn’t be ignored.
Football may have the numbers, but, for entertainment, a bad hurling game will always beat its football equivalent, and, on a day when neutrals contributed much to the mood, their feelings were felt (the attempted ‘Mexican wave’ said it all).
By moving both games back by an hour to 3pm and 5pm throw-ins, the GAA had attempted to make the finals more attractive, so that those attending the parade in the capital, or hoping to avoid the traffic restrictions that went with it, could arrive in Croke Park in ample time.
Yet, the 30,930 attendance was down on the 31,518 of 2016.
It wouldn’t have affected the crowd numbers to play the hurling final second. Not only would Cuala’s mass exodus have been avoided, but it’s possible more neutrals and tourists, who are more enamoured of the smaller-ball game, would have remained on, thereby at least improving the vista, both in Croke Park and on TV.
Speaking of hurlin, here’s how we believe the Division 1 quarter-finals will line up after next Sunday’s final round games: Tipperary v Kerry; Clare v Galway; Kilkenny v Limerick; Wexford v Waterford.
What Gooch did next?
So, is Ger O’Keeffe is to believed: will Colm Cooper step away from inter-county football now that he has completed the full set of medals?
On the morning of the final, we doubt Cooper was all that thankful that his former Kerry selector suggested the “foxy-headed fella”, as he is known in Dr Crokes, might pack it in now that he has been there, done that and sold the T-shirt.
Then again, the 33-year-old may have been oblivious to it all.
O’Keeffe’s opinion is shared by other keen observers in Kerry who sense that he, like Henry Shefflin did just over a week after he helped guide Ballyhale Shamrocks to a sixth annexing of the Tommy Moore Cup, will shortly announce that he has played his last game for his county.
In a way, it would be appropriate to bow out like Shefflin having enjoyed glory with his club but there are indications he is preparing to stay on. Asked last October if an All-Ireland title with Crokes was his last remaining ambition, he smiled: “Well, it’s a remaining one. There’s a few left!” He later explained: “It’s just to continue playing and win, basically. Is that to win more with Kerry? Does that mean I’m not retiring? For as long as I’m playing I just want to keep winning. If that’s with Dr Crokes or Kerry – whatever.”
Dublin’s strength aside, Cooper knows there’s more chance of Kerry winning an All-Ireland this year than in 2014 when they upset the odds. Dare he miss out now as he did then when he is fit and still showing class in Croke Park?
Dare Kerry do without a mind that remains so razor sharp?