JOHN FOGARTY: Deception is name of the game in inter-county football

In the gathering gloom last Saturday night, small groups of Donegal and Monaghan players congregated in the car park outside Kingspan Breffni Park to shoot the breeze. If Cavan town wasn’t such a traffic logjam, they may have gone separate ways earlier. Yet they seemed pleased to have the chance to chat.

Less than an hour earlier, they were rattling each other’s teeth with bone-crunching shoulders but, as they chatted, all you could see was their pearly whites. Several would have tested the strength of each other’s jersey fabric in some of the heated encounters during the Ulster semi-final, yet here in all its glory was what Monaghan’s most famous son Patrick Kavanagh referred to as the wink-and-elbow language of delight.

Each of them knew full well this wasn’t over. In seven days’ time, they would again go to battle but as the Donegal players sipped tea and coffee and Monaghan players dropped their kit bags to chat there was ease. Not that you would have known it by the animosity and contempt they exhibited for one another between the white lines. Respect has many different faces. There is so much about football we don’t really know.

The same applies to the rules. When Donegal’s Martin McElhinney was sent off for adding a black card to a yellow card, the crowd’s reaction was muted to such an extent it seemed they felt he was walking to the line to be replaced. In fairness, yellow and black sendings-off are a rarity but it highlighted that the black card, as much as this is its third year in operation, is still in its infancy.

That point is corroborated by the number of referees who struggle to penalise the body-check/third man tackle. What McElhinney did wasn’t so removed from how Kieran Gillespie collided with Ódhran MacNiallais’s marker Fintan Kelly in freeing up MacNiallais for his goal. The only difference was McElhinney’s infringement, blocking Drew Wylie, took place in front of Joe McQuillan. Although McQuillan made the correct call, he took time to blow in the first place and then sought advice before brandishing the cards.

Donegal are the example here but they are hardly the exception. Most if not all of the championship’s leading contenders are finding ways and means to circumvent or at least circumnavigate the rules as we understand them. Screening is a word that will be soon become part of Gaelic football’s lexicon. What Gillespie and McElhinney did on Saturday is a more agricultural variation of it. Dublin have displayed a subtler form of it whereby the player, be he in possession or not, discommodes his direct opponent from the next play using their running line. In essence, it’s a black card offence but difficult to detect.

In analysing the Dublin-Kerry Division 1 final, statistician Rob Carroll on the42.ie expertly broke down the screening that led to Dublin’s penalty. As Dean Rock shot, Paul Mannion ran into Peter Crowley before Michael Darragh Macauley bumped into Shane Enright. As a result, the Kerry defender was slow to react to Rock’s strike hitting the post and brought down Mannion. What should rile Kerry is that Dublin have become cuter than them. Before anyone suggests otherwise, there didn’t appear to be any chicanery about Donegal having 15 players on the field towards the end of Saturday’s game when they should have had one less. It may yet land them in a spot of bother but it seemed more of an error than an attempt to make an illegitimate gain. Why The Sunday Game chose not to mention it, particularly as it was another high-profile match administration error, when Sky had earlier quizzed Rory Gallagher about it is slightly peculiar.

When it comes to rules, we aren’t without sin either. Last week, this column suggested there was a dubious nature to Cavan’s third goal against Tyrone. We were later corrected. While much of David Givney’s body was in the small rectangle before the ball was transferred across to him, his feet were not, so David Gough was right to allow the score. The standard of football refereeing has been better than recent years but it’s becoming a more onerous gig. The game ain’t what it used to be, the players not what they once were. More cunning. Like the line from Goodfellas: murderers come with smiles. Like those megawatt ones in a Cavan town car park.

Will Meath accept the big step-up?

We, in the media, aren’t known for tooting our own horn — not one bit — but coin rounding may as well have been one of our ideas. Rounding up, maybe, certainly not rounding down. “Almost 100” sounds a lot more convincing than 98 or 99. Over 1 million has a much better ring to it than 1.1 or 1.2. Same figures, just told more dramatically.

After Westmeath qualified for Sunday’s Leinster final, we’ve been informing you Dublin will be facing a Division 4 team. Except, Tom Cribbin’s team have not yet kicked a ball in anger in the lowest rung of the league. But because they are destined to play there next season, there’s no harm in defining the disparity between them and the All-Ireland champions even further.

Nothing, though, can be exaggerated about Meath’s Christy Ring Cup final win on Saturday. It was a phenomenal achievement given the circumstances that precipitated the re-fixture — their celebrations after the first game, that some of their players returned from the US to line out in the game not to mention the frenzied nature of the victory. Few would have it seen coming earlier this year. After all, they will remain a Division 2B side next season.

Yet, as a reward, they gain a Leinster quarter-final place next year as a result of an Antrim motion that was foolishly voted in at Congress earlier this year. That may have to be revisited by the GAA later this year if Meath decide to take up the offer. Croke Park officials will be hoping they won’t have to and instead Meath realise that jump may be too much for them.

But after the debacle earlier this month, it wouldn’t be so surprising if they made life difficult for the powers-that-be.

High time diving was stamped out

If it takes one to know one, people should take heed when a self-proclaimed diver like Pat Spillane is calling out the embarrassing behaviour of Mark Anthony McGinley on Saturday night.

“That guy wasn’t injured, it was simulation. It’s not Donegal, it’s not Mark Anthony McGinley,” he said about the goalkeeper on The Sunday Game. “A lot of them are doing it but maybe it’s about time we addressed where teams are feigning injury to get an opponent yellow or black-carded.”

Later in the programme, in quite a performance from the Kerry legend, Spillane admitted he too dived: “I used to do my own diving and looking for frees so I always used to get them handy. Before simulating became a name, I was simulating for a few years. It was to draw attention to blind referees and blind linesmen who didn’t see some fella pulling or dragging me!” McGinley availed of a chance to slow down the clock as Donegal led by two points but Spillane’s point is interesting in the sense players continue to take things into their own hands if they believe they’re not getting a fair shake.

It was strongly believed the GAA would take steps to cut out diving after the Central Competitions Control Committee handed down an excessive eight-week ban to Tyrone’s Tiernan McCann last year. The proposed penalty was rightly dismissed. Nevertheless, it was a marker.

Earlier this year, GAA director of games development Pat Daly told this newspaper work was in progress but they had to distinguish between dives for frees, penalties and trying to get an opponent carded or sent off. Diving may not be an epidemic but even in isolation the attention it brings is too cringeworthy not to try and stamp it out.

Fógra: Cork GAA lost one of its greats in the passing of Jim Forbes yesterday. As Cork chairman, PRO, Munster PRO and Central Appeals Committee chairman, he conducted his business not just with the GAA’s best interests at heart but with a remarkable humility, sense of humour and generosity of heart. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie 


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