Our writers chat through the main talking points from the weekend’s Allianz League action.
Umpires in the spotlight again
Perhaps Fergal Kelly’s umpires in Tyrone are referees themselves and spotted Kerry’s David Clifford doing something to merit a second yellow card that led to his dismissal at a critical stage of proceedings. Most of us watching on TG4 can’t say for sure. Chances are neither can anyone at the ground.
Only the men in the white coats can state with any certainty whether they served their referee (and the game) well or poorly in the info passed to Longford’s Kelly. Clifford is a marked man and vulnerable to villainous activity in most games - especially when he is on a yellow card. That’s the law of the jungle. When a referee doesn’t see an incident, he relies on his team of officials (linesmen included) to recommend sanction or not. This raises again a number of uncomfortable issues for the GAA (none of which are solved easily).
Firstly, as Eamonn Fitzmaurice pointed out here last year, how keen will linesmen be to rescue a referee who is, essentially, a rival for future games? Second, the facile (and seemingly obligatory) solution to these schemozzles with a pair of yellow cards only suits the perpetrator and thirdly, there’s the role of the umpires themselves.
Scoring technology may come to the rescue at certain grounds, but in the matter of acts of violence and intimidation, the demands of the umpire gig must extend well beyond being on first name terms with the referee. The case for filling those white jackets with ex-referees is logical but hardly practical at a time when the GAA is struggling to even recruit referees. Expect more of these frustrating episodes.
- David Clifford red just one regret among many for Kerry
After perfect start, McCarthy to cut Cork panel
Cork have finished this first block of League games with three wins from three, but instead of spending the next fortnight basking in their unbeaten start and top of the table position, Ronan McCarthy has revealed that management will be carrying out the less than pleasurable job of cutting players from the panel next week.
"Unfortunately, we are at a point where we have to cut back slightly on our panel again. And we’ll be doing that next week," said McCarthy on Sunday.
The manager is confident of having the returning Brian Hurley, Mark Collins, and James Loughrey in the frame for selection come the Tipperary game in Thurles on February 22.
"The reality here is there are loads of players there vying for positions. It is difficult now to pick a 26, never mind a 15. It will be even more difficult in the next round because of the players who are coming back [from injury]."
- Ronan McCarthy praises Cork after 'crucial victory' puts them in pole position
Should Donegal play all their home games in Ballybofey?
Donegal have been scattering their home fixtures between Ballybofey, Letterkenny, and Ballyshannon every year but one since 2007. However, their form and mood has certainly been mixed away from County HQ at MacCumhaill Park, where they last played all their League outings in 2013.
Donegal, under Brian McIver, overcame Kerry in the first inter-county match played back at O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny, in 2007 on their way to winning the National Football League but have only won once in 15 since in League and Dr McKenna Cup.
Donegal’s record in Ballyshannon isn’t so bad, although there isn't much appetite to play there, with former midfielder Martin McElhinney revealing a few years back: “Donegal don't even want to go to Ballyshannon. I think it is the worst place in Ireland, to be honest.”
Meanwhile, in Ballybofey, Donegal have a formidable record, having not lost a League match since they went down to Down in March 2010 and being beaten in only one Championship outing in the last 10 seasons, when Tyrone ran out winners in the Super 8s two years ago.
“It was nothing to do with O'Donnell Park there today,” said full-back Neil McGee, the only man to have spanned the 14-year era. “In my opinion, we should be playing all our games in MacCumhaill Park just to maximise the home advantage but it's not for me to decide that.”
- 'He gave them every chance': Pádraic Joyce unhappy with added time in Galway win
Late pitch calls let down fans and players
Down’s 0-10 to 0-6 win over Tipperary wasn’t a classic but it was never going to be. The real question was, should the game even have gone ahead?
Tipp manager David Power wanted it called off on Friday given the impending arrival of Storm Ciara and the distances involved in travelling for both players and supporters. That viewpoint is entirely understandable and, not for the first time, supporters appear to have been at the bottom of the GAA's thinking when it comes to decisions like this.
The Celtic Park pitch is normally superb and had miraculously managed to host an Ulster U20 Championship match 24 hours before, a game played in atrocious conditions, but it's fair to say no-one in the Oak Leaf camp expected the pitch to get the green light.
Underfoot conditions remained treacherous on Sunday, spoiling any chance of a decent game and making it a player welfare issue, but the later these decisions are left, the more pressure is placed on officials and groundsmen to get games on, even when they should be cancelled. That can't be right.
- 13-man Tipperary fail to score from play in Derry defeat
Further evidence to take time-keeping from refs
Seamus McEnaney has maintained a low profile since returning as Monaghan manager, knocking back a series of media requests in order to 'keep the head down'. He bit his lip again Saturday when asked what he thought about referee Ciaran Branagan's decision to stretch the game against Dublin at Croke Park out to an 80th minute.
Six minutes of stoppage time was initially allotted, though with an injury occurring in this period, Branagan opted to add on more than half again, clearly energising Dublin's fightback.
"Listen, there was six minutes on the clock - there was (over) nine minutes played," said McEnaney. "I've enough problems of my own to sort out without worrying about the problems that Ciaran Branagan had tonight."
Dessie Farrell wasn't about to complain, though did appear to agree that taking time-keeping duties out of the hands of already busy referees may be the best way forward.
"Yeah, and I think that's a debate that's ongoing for a couple of years now within the GAA," said Farrell. "The other one is the black card situation and what's happening there in relation to time as well. There's a couple of things to look at for sure."
- McEnaney 'absolutely delighted', Farrell 'happy', after Dublin draw with Monaghan
McShane appearance caps huge day for Tyrone
A good day for Mickey Harte. Any day that delivers a defeat of Kerry qualifies in that regard but for the Tyrone manager, there was the added bonus of being able to send Cathal McShane into the fray after confirmation last week that the Owen Roes clubman would not be making a bid at AFL stardom.
"We were all delighted that he made the decision to stay and play Gaelic football,” said Harte. “He's a super player, you will only see him getting better. That's only a taste of what he can do, he's a physical presence, a really good footballer.”
Harte always felt that there was a chance of persuading the player to stay, even when it appeared to be a done deal that he would link up with the Adelaide Crows. As long as nothing was signed, Harte was not prepared to admit defeat.
"I don't want to get into political rows with another football organisation but enough to say that I like players playing Gaelic football and there is no payback for us from the AFL. It's a 'win-win' for them if they get Gaelic players. We never get anything back from them.
“I don't know why we would create a warm market for that drain. I have always said if people choose to go that is their own prerogative but we should not be in cahoots with an organisation that loves our players.”
- David Clifford red just one regret among many for Kerry
History repeats itself in Division 1 relegation battle
Donegal will still fancy their chances of remaining in Division 1 though their defeat to Galway, having been held to a draw by Mayo in Round 1, will leave them looking back with some anger. They will hope those dropped points aren't costly and don't drag them into a relegation struggle which typically awaits teams that come up from Division 2.
Meath, the other team that earned promotion in 2019, are in the thick of that relegation battle after three consecutive defeats. Worse still, Meath still have to play Kerry, Dublin, and Monaghan away, and have only one home game left, against Galway.
Recent history suggests that if Meath and Donegal aren't both relegated, at least one of them will be. Five of the eight teams that won promotion from Division 2 between 2015 and 2018 - Down, Cavan, Kildare, Roscommon, and Cavan again - were all immediately relegated the following season. Cavan and Roscommon were both sent packing from Division 1 in 2019, having only gone up together in 2018.
Meath manager Andy McEntee said: "It was always going to be a real challenge. But I said last year our season wouldn't be defined by the Leinster final and it won't be defined this year either by survival in Division 1 or not."
- 'I'm massively frustrated': Andy McEntee lets rip after another time-keeping dispute