YESTERDAY’S events in Thurles told us more about a man who wasn’t on the field than one who was. If anybody was in doubt about the Westmeath man taking charge of the All-Ireland final, they aren’t now.
Fergal Horgan would have realised that early last week, when he was asked to referee this replay. It might have been wishful thinking to believe he could be the man in the middle for the final two years running, but being appointed to this match would have confirmed it.
Fergal would probably have been disappointed he got the replay. He didn’t look as tuned in as he should have been. Not that he went out to have a bad game, but it was a tough one for him, when he was in the running with James McGrath for the final.
The first sign Fergal was having difficulty came in the first-half, when there was a passage of play that ran for three or four minutes without a whistle. There could have been four or five frees — Pádraic Mannion could have been given one or two of them — but there was nothing.
There was a square-ball infringement, just before Peter Duggan’s goal in the second-half. John Conlon was in the area, before Shane O’Donnell set up Duggan and Galway should have been awarded a free-out.
Other examples, like Niall Burke and David Burke being fouled without frees, also come to mind. The free that Duggan missed, which was won by O’Donnell, seemed to come as advantage was being played, but no advantage was signalled.
Of the correct calls Horgan made, there was punishing Jonathan Glynn for pushing to get an advantage, when he had the ball.
The yellow cards were right, too, but Daithí Burke could have been yellow-carded in the lead-up to the O’Donnell goal, although there was good advantage shown for that score.
David Burke is a lucky man. What he did to Aron Shanagher, with his elbow, was borderline red and any other day it was a straight dismissal. As soon as it happened, it seemed Fergal was thinking what was at stake, even though the result was not yet confirmed.
James should be confirmed in the coming days and he might have felt he was in the shake-up for it, having been in charge of a provincial final and an All-Ireland quarter-final.
He had a slow start to the year, by his standards, but he’s improved throughout the summer and is in prime position now, as is David Gough for the football final, providing he isn’t announced for either of the semi-finals this weekend.
James knows that finals are different games. They’re not ones you can let develop as much as other ones, because there is so much at stake.
You have to be that bit tighter from the start. My motto for them was only let the game flow when you’re in control of it and if that takes five, 20, or 60 minutes, then so be it. Only when you feel confident that you have a grasp of it can you give it freedom.
That wasn’t something Joe McQuillan was going to be allowed for the game in Ballybofey yesterday. He could have brought a deck of cards with him, that many were shown. The game seemed to break records for the number of high tackles: Mattie Donnelly, Neil McGee, Ronan McNamee, Ryan McHugh, Eoin Bán Gallagher.
There were a couple of calls for black cards, for trips in the first-half, but Joe was right not to give them. The one he did show, for Michael McKernan, was on the money. Joe did miss a double hop by Ciarán Thompson, in the first-half, but there was good cooperation from his assistants, like when Paddy Neilan helped umpires to adjudge a Tyrone shot as a wide in the second-half.
Colm Cavanagh and Odhrán MacNiallais were rightfully given yellow cards for acting the maggot. I don’t know how Donegal got a free at the end, when Colm Cavanagh was blatantly taken out of it.
On Saturday, Neil Flynn’s red card in Killarney was the big story. It was harsh enough, but any striking to the head, or attempted striking, in football is a red card and he paid the price for putting his hand where he shouldn’t have. Kildare will feel hard done by for that, and other incidents in the first-half.
I thought Conor Lane would have a tougher time of it in Salthill, managing Galway and Monaghan, that it would take a bit of reffing, but it turned out to be a stress-free day for the Cork man.