There was much post-match debate about the refereeing decisions in last Sunday’s league final replay, particularly the last free given to Clare from which Tony Kelly struck the equaliser.
Waterford fans and mentors claimed Jamie Barron had been fouled before a decision was given in Kelly’s favour.
We have to assume referee Diarmuid Kirwan saw no foul play in the Cian Dillon tackle on Barron, which was executed with great speed. We must also assume that he saw something that convinced him Clare deserved a free when Tony Kelly went to ground. In the final minute of a tight game, these are pressurised decisions for a referee.
Prior to this incident, the referee made the long run in to consult with his umpires when Aaron Cunningham went down under a challenge from Noel Connors. This resulted in a free out for Waterford. Between the three, they got this decision wrong. I know it’s a hobby horse of mine but a lot of these controversial decisions could be cleared up if the GAA had a television match official (TMO) in operation.
I have made the point previously that rugby referees are on record declaring that the presence of a TMO is a major help to their decision-making. This may not guarantee all decisions will be spot on. Human error will always play a part but it will ensure that decisions in as far as possible will be correct.
It will come in eventually so why not now? Incorrect decisions can have major consequences and must surely also affect the referee, who is only human and can’t get everything right.
These decisions affect the players most of all and it surprises me that as a body, they don’t look for the introduction of a TMO sooner rather than later. Last Sunday, linesman Fergal Horgan went onto the field to explain some incident to the ref. As a result, Waterford’s Barry Coughlan received a yellow card. This is good officiating but why not go for the “full monty”?
People opposed to the use of technology will argue that the refereeing decisions will normally balance themselves out over the game. But no one, apart from the referee himself and the losing manager, goes through video footage to investigate the veracity of this claim.
Louth would have been the Leinster football champions in 2010 if a TMO was in place that day. Tipperary may have been crowned league champions in 2014 if either a TMO or Hawk Eye were operating the day of the final against Kilkenny.
Tipp should have got a point and a Kilkenny point should have been waved wide. Hawk Eye was available last Sunday in Thurles but wasn’t used. The mind boggles.
The GAA have established a ritual now of players shaking hands with opponents and officials prior to the game as part of the “give respect, get respect” campaign.
But then is it disrespecting players when technology, available to make “on pitch adjudication” fairer, is not being utilised?
Clare’s management will be very happy with their point-scoring policy rather than seeking goals. It showed good maturity, particularly when they had to take the field without John Conlon and David Mc Inerney. The display of Tony Kelly will have particularly pleased them. He missed the regular rounds of the league and Fitzgibbon Tournament. Clare are now benefiting from Kelly’s rest as his enthusiasm reaches his outstanding 2013 levels.
The Waterford bus passed me as they headed for home last Sunday evening. They looked a dejected bunch. The problem now for manager Derek Mc Grath is to lift his players psychologically for their assault on the championship.
‘Did Clare win it or did we lose it?’ may be a question that is exercising McGrath’s mind. He will hold his own views on the various refereeing decisions. He will focus on what he can control, and refereeing decisions are outside of this.
How Waterford played down the finishing stretch of both halves will cause him some concern. Thirty minutes into the first half, the Déise led by six points. They had control of the game particularly after Pat O’Connor gifted them the second goal.
A six-point half-time lead might have been enough. Instead, they handed Clare three points before half- time which gave the Banner hope. Six points down would have changed the atmosphere in the Clare dressing room significantly at half-time.
Firstly, Jamie Barron tugged the shoulder of Clare’s David Reidy when Reidy had taken five or six steps and would have to release the ball or be penalised.
Waterford failed to pick up loose players and Conor McGrath engineered a one-two with Reidy for a soft point.
If you were the Waterford defence coach, you would have practised ad infinitum the close marking of Clare sharpshooter Conor McGrath. But Colm Galvin picked out McGrath for a good point as Waterford defenders marked space.
One of my favourite sayings when working with defences is that “space never scores”. The nearest Waterford defender should have been ‘up close and personal’ with McGrath. The third point came from a silly tug on the aforementioned Galvin, who was struggling to break free.
These three avoidable points cost Waterford the game at a period in the first half when they failed to add to their own score. The second half was much the same. No score for the last eight minutes at a time when Clare struck over four.
One must be ruthless in tight games. Towards the end, with the scores level, Waterford should have flooded the midfield with bodies, obstructing any runs by Clare dangermen Tony Kelly.
Lessons to be learned for the upcoming Clare v Waterford part 3.
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