PM O'SULLIVAN: Cats’ three-in-a-row chase not even background noise

Brian Gavin

First off, no referee can get every call correct. The most beautiful game simply moves too fast, writes PM O’Sullivan

Now concludes the spree for three.

As nobody in the world of hurling, any time this season, dubbed it. Can omission more telling be? This factor might as well not exist. Kilkenny have so altered terms of reference that an attempt on three senior titles in a row is not even background noise.

Whatever transpires in nine days’ time, this facet remains odd in its lack of strange. Three in a row, not long back, would have been headline news. Nearly everyone is fed up of those black and amber jerseys. That a 27th senior title for Tipperary will count as deliverance says it all.

Let me report that the mood in Kilkenny is hardly what outsiders might reckon. I run into hurling people in the way those interested in horseracing run into tips. This last week has been informative.

The mood is quite unusual, more resigned than glum. I have yet to meet a native who thinks Kilkenny are going to beat Tipperary in this All-Ireland final. There is mention of Michael Fennelly’s unfortunate injury. There is murmuring about the ‘law of averages’ in more or less the same tone as the First Sorrowful Mystery. There is talk of Tipp’s turn.

We shall see, which is the beauty of it all. The players will decide this joust. Nor can Kilkenny supporters hide behind Fennelly’s absence. Would their team have survived Waterford on either day if the excellent Darragh Fives had been available?

Another part of this build-up’s dynamics? Inordinate chatter about referees. There was populist guff from predictable quarters about Brian Gavin getting the gig. Tipperary’s current hurlers are classy enough, in all senses, to get this job done without balloons of nonsense adding to the colour.

First off, no referee can get every call correct. The most beautiful game simply moves too fast. There is a lot of momentum-checking stuff, by every team, in 21st-century hurling, from jersey tugs to various kinds of borderline legal impediment.

We used to hear insistent strictures about ‘spare hand’ tackling and so forth. Supposedly Kilkenny were its instigator, a position on a par with David Icke’s take on lizards. Which or whether, this emphasis rather dried up when Dónal Óg Cusack went coaching Clare. A gamekeeper turned back poacher works best in silence.

Said aspect of hurling, players tangling in scarcely legal fashion, could be eliminated with relative ease. What it would take is an initiative whereby a referee, over three or four championship matches, blew absolutely every questionable tackle. Players hate conceding frees and would police themselves in this regard, once it became a contest-deciding element. The matter is not that complex.

Here falls the nub: Is there an appetite for such an initiative? Or is the ‘letting the game flow’ rubric a keener one? People can’t have it both ways.

Shane Bennett, in possession during the 18th minute of Waterford’s All Ireland semi-final replay with Kilkenny, briefly had his arm pulled by TJ Reid’s free hand. The moment should have been a free. But it was so fleeting an incident that referee James McGrath can be forgiven for not spotting it.

The minute before, Eoin Larkin got handpassed a ball by Richie Hogan. He soloed forward and attempted to sidestep Conor Gleeson, Waterford’s left half back. Gleeson blatantly extended his left arm and dragged down Larkin. McGrath waved on play. Ever since another referee decided Larkin is not entitled to a free in these situations, he seems to be treated differently than other forwards.

Needless to remind, there was copious media comment about Kilkenny manager Brian Cody taking James McGrath to task at half-time in the replay. Those comments would have possessed far more weight if they were issued from individuals with a track record of raising this topic where Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald is concerned. Rarely enough, over 18 seasons, has Cody got involved with an official.

Ger Loughnane recently claimed on The Sunday Game that the standard of refereeing has never been higher. Loughnane is to bold statement what beagles are to scent. Maybe he is correct in that assessment but there is one aspect of last Saturday week’s refereeing that deserves to be annotated. Item: Time added above and beyond the designated three minutes of additional time.

Richie Hogan struck the game’s final ball on 75:15. Meaning: Over two minutes elapsed beyond the designated three. Should timing not have an objective side (even though there is no suggestion that James McGrath was acting in any way except a touch unusually)? The sole substitute in additional time (Kilkenny’s Kevin Kelly) entered on 72:35, when designated time was nearly up.

A friend, who referees in Galway, was texting as I travelled home from Thurles. I asked his opinion on time added beyond the official measure. He thought the extra was fine, instancing substitutions and so forth (when there had been but one, with a mere 25 seconds to run).

His response so surprised me that I made a mathematical point, remarking that two minutes is 66 % of three minutes. How can any spell of minutes generate that much of itself as surplus? 66% of 70 minutes is 47 minutes, give or take. Have we ever seen hard on 47 minutes of additional time for a 70-minute match?

You know the answer. The typical measure for a 35 minute half is two minutes, which is around 6%.

Responding to the maths, the friend first remarked: “It was as much to prove that you were worthy winners than anything else. There is a certain psychology to it.”

When I demurred, wondering whether there is a separate rulebook for reigning All-Ireland Champions, he replied: “It is an underdog’s privilege.”

I have never met anyone who had sight of a section in any rulebook, past or present, marked ‘Underdog’s Privilege’.

Before their 2007 All-Ireland final with Limerick, when Kilkenny were seeking two in a row, I wrote a magazine article about what would be best for the game’s future. The contention centred on a Kilkenny five in a row. Only this scenario, I felt, would force a move into an open draw structure. Even the Munster supremacists would not abide a scenario in which a Leinster county routinely harvested five or more titles a decade.

The scenario broached in August 2007 came up 19 minutes short in September 2010. But its truth, over many dynamics, remains no less acute.


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