The rulebook will have done nothing these past 36 hours to shield James McGrath from the torrent of abuse he’s received for sending off Pa Horgan on Sunday.
Some of it has gone far beyond the acceptable with his Westmeath heritage calling into question his pedigree as an inter-county referee.
However, he could wake up yesterday morning safe in the knowledge he applied a rule to the letter of the law.
He could also be satisfied he had adhered to national referees committee chairman Pat McEnaney’s directive that high fouls should be dealt with an iron first.
Back in December, McEnaney told this newspaper: “There is a lot of video evidence to suggest there are too many fouls happening around players’ heads like wild pulling and interfering and tapping.
“Just because all players now wear helmets doesn’t make it right. Anything done in or around the head is a red card offence and that’s something we will be concentrating on in the new year.”
McGrath’s decision was consistent with that instruction which basically underlined the rule that already exists in the book.
That tired call for common sense? Horgan’s good name?
Spare us — McGrath isn’t a court judge. That there was precedent for excusing Horgan’s action means nothing. The referee on Sunday shouldn’t be held to account for the behaviour of his colleagues.
Was it a tough call on Horgan? Yes but to suggest it didn’t fall within the criteria for a red card is wide of the mark.
It wasn’t a tap, a tip, a flick, a pat, a rap or a brush of the hurley against the back of Paudie O’Brien’s head. As Michael Duignan stated in his co-commentary, it was a slap. Minimal contact it certainly wasn’t.
Obviously, the incident was made look worse by O’Brien falling to the ground as he was unsighted by the sun and the Limerick defender falling to the ground with pain of the sliotar hitting the visor of his helmet.
Slow-motion replays of it also make it look more innocuous than it actually was but they take nothing away from the recklessness of it.
Referees have been on red alert about high fouls since the Dublin-Wexford replay when Gareth Sinnott was fortunate not to have seen the line for a strike on Peter Kelly.
That’s not to say they have all been heeding McEnaney’s directive. Just because McGrath has shouldn’t mean he is the fall guy as much as Horgan appears to be.
If there is inconsistency in the application of the rule, it is a matter for Croke Park and shouldn’t be falling in McGrath’s lap. Yet he must be feeling as if he’s committed a heinous crime, given the bile directed his way since 4.39pm on Sunday afternoon.
It’s not the first time he has fallen foul, if you will, of the rulebook in the eyes of supporters.
In last year’s All-Ireland final replay, McGrath was condemned for not allowing advantage for Galway’s Cyril Donnellan’s goal having blown a second or two earlier for a free. The incident amplified the urgency of a proper advantage rule being introduced to hurling but was McGrath wrong to do what he did? No. To have allowed that goal would have been worse when Kilkenny defenders would have had every right to say they played the whistle.
Once again, McGrath finds himself in the maelstrom for doing his job. It would be most unfortunate were this game to be his last of the Championship just because he’s raised the ire of those with vested interests.
We’ve written before of the need to treat the rulebook more than a reference guide. Common sense is mentioned nowhere in it. Common sense is more open to interpretation and therefore abuse than rules themselves.
If what is stated in the pages that governs the game doesn’t reflect what the hurling fraternity want, then change it.
Until then, button up and don’t shoot the messenger.
Kerry old guard slip up by failing to follow Fitz’s party line
No county team enjoys as much allegiance from former players as Kerry. At times you’d swear they are the GAA’s version of Clark Kent, a big ‘K’ under their shirts.
Hardly a foot is put wrong when speaking about the team in case it may jeopardise the current custodians, but recent events suggest that practice is being neglected a little.
Eoin Liston, without being named, felt Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s wrath after he spoke of a major omission from the team to face Cork prior to the team being released.
Fitzmaurice had to bring forward the announcement as a result, confirming Kieran Donaghy’s dropping to the bench.
Jack O’Shea has had to distance himself, albeit slowly, from his “junior footballer” comments about Ciarán Kilkenny. “I have doubts about him,” wrote O’Shea in May. “I saw every league match he played and can safely say he got blocked down about 20 times. He’s a junior footballer. He’s static when he gets on the ball. He’s taking too long to get away from defenders.”
Kilkenny, it must be remembered, started just three times in the league, the latter appearance lasting only six minutes after suffering a knee injury.
With Kerry on course to face Dublin in an All-Ireland semi-final, the last thing Fitzmaurice needs is one of his own throwing sticks on the fire.
Breen and Dugdale pay dearly for principles
In Seán O’Casey’s play Juno and the Paycock, Johnny’s mother Mrs Boyle provides one of the greatest comeback lines ever uttered on an Irish stage. Tired of her son’s “a principle is a principle” mantra about his stance in the Civil War, she returns: “Ah, you lost your best principle, me boy, when you lost your arm; them’s the only sort o’ principles that’s any good to a workin’ man”.
The Leitrim management’s decision to axe four players for a breach of discipline in May might have been noble but it was hardly practical for a county of its size.
Would London have won through to a Connacht final had they been available? Would Armagh have netted eight times in Carrick-on-Shannon?
The quartet will undoubtedly be wondering what might have been if they had stayed on the straight and narrow. But the same thoughts must be plaguing Barney Breen and George Dugdale after such an ugly finish to their season.
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