Readers of this column will know the practice of two teams leaving the field and going into the one tunnel at Croke Park is a bugbear of mine.
I’ve raised it three times here in the past. When there are dressing rooms on both sides of the pitch, in the interest of safety and avoiding flashpoints it makes sense for one group to tog out under the Hogan Stand and the other in the Cusack.
Those vicious, disgraceful scenes at the end of normal time in the Galway-Armagh All-Ireland quarter-final could so easily have been avoided if such a measure was put in place. Instead, the GAA has usually insisted on one team staying on the field while the other departs. But in the heat of battle and with Armagh having come back dramatically to force extra-time that protocol was ignored.
It didn’t help either that there were some bad decisions against Galway in the closing stages of normal time. All the excitement of the game was overshadowed by what I would describe as the most major disciplinary matter in years.
How could any referee try and deal with that? Who do you pinpoint for contributing to a melee – this was far more than a melee – or acting dangerously to an opponent? There seemed to be so many. If there was one saving grace about it, it’s that it didn’t happen on the steps going down to the dressing rooms on the Cusack Stand side because that would have been even more dangerous.
How referee David Coldrick singled out Galway captain Seán Kelly and Armagh joint-captain Aidan Nugent, I don’t know. I’ve watched the footage of the brawl several times now and the only thing Kelly appears to do is remonstrate with the Armagh individual who so cowardly and brutally eye-gouged Damien Comer and will be faced with a serious suspension.
David spoke with his officials along with Donal Smith, the GAA’s national referees manager, before the start of extra-time and it appeared they had told the teams they were each going to lose a player for the benefit of the fresh teamsheets. It looked a little strange but they were probably right.
Now Kelly looks like he will miss the All-Ireland semi-final against Derry and there could be more depending on the Central Competitions Control Committee’s anticipated review. With that game only 12 days away, it will be a huge distraction for Galway.
In fairness to them, they were subjected to a series of late tackles coming to the end of normal time when Armagh players were making contact with Galway faces too. Greg McCabe was sent off for Armagh and while I agree with David’s assessment, the clash of heads between himself and Matthew Tierney after the foul probably made it look worse than it was. But then McCabe gave David the reason to dismiss him.
Shane Walsh and James Morgan grappled on the ground and nothing was done about it despite the linesman standing over them. Morgan had already picked up a yellow card so he would have been off. David missed two hops by Rian O’Neill for Stefan Campbell’s score and Nugent took a lot of steps before kicking over his mark.
Damien Comer was silly to taunt Ethan Rafferty after a Galway score and deserved his booking but then Rafferty brought him to ground after it and avoided punishment when it was at worst a yellow and possibly a black.
The other quarter-final was slightly anti-climatic but it did have some moments and I thought David Gough wasn’t up to his usual high standards. He seemed a little lackadaisical at times and off the pace of play.
Aidan O’Shea was black carded apparently for verbals when the linesman alerted David following a tussle between O’Shea and David Clifford, but it looked unusual when the Mayo man wasn’t near the official.
Kevin McLoughlin should have been yellowed in the first half but escaped the penalty and Diarmuid O’Connor, for his booking, gave a high elbow, which would have earned a red card from a weaker referee.
Largely due to the margins between the teams in their quarter-finals on Saturday, Martin McNally and Seán Hurson had an easier time of it. McNally is heading in the right direction and Hurson is not 100 miles away from being appointed to an All-Ireland final in the next year or two.
On a final note, we’re five days out from the first All-Ireland hurling semi-final and we still don’t know the identity of the two referees. I understood the linesmen have been informed but there hasn’t been word yet about the men in the middle.
I recently praised the GAA for releasing the referee appointments two weeks in advance but this is disappointing. Fergal Horgan, you would imagine, won’t be appointed to Sunday’s Limerick-Galway game when his son Eoin is playing in goal for Tipperary’s minors in the All-Ireland minor final the same day.