HURLING is in danger of becoming a game of “tiddlywinks” if referees continue to hand out yellow and red cards with the same abandon seen so far this summer, according to Joe Canning.
Galway have already learned the hard way that incidents which previously earned no more than a wag of the finger or a stern talking-to are now deemed serious enough to have referees scrambling for their pocket books.
Both Andy Smith and David Burke have already walked the line for Galway while the Wexford pair of David Redmond and Diarmuid Lyng were dismissed in the counties’ Leinster quarter-final played in late May.
“I don’t think it is the referees’ fault,” Canning said at the Supermacs GAA Jersey launch. “They are being told what to do and if they don’t implement what they are told to do then they’re going to get a bollicking off the assessors or whoever.
“It is just people with lots of time on their hands looking for fickle little things to try and clean up the game, but hurling was never dirty.
“There have been more red cards this year, I’d say, than in five years put together probably. For nothing. There hasn’t been a dirty stroke where you would say ‘yeah, he deserves a red card’. It’s a physical game, it’s a contact game. The way they are going now it will end up like a game of tiddlywinks in a couple of years time.”
It has been Galway’s fate to be intricately linked with so many of the major talking points which have arisen so far in the 2010 hurling championship – quite apart from the treat that was their two-game epic against Offaly.
Galway players scored disputed points in both those ties against Joe Dooley’s side. Ger Farragher’s, a sideline cut that clearly went wide of the post in the opening minutes of the drawn game, was the first.
That was balanced out in Portlaoise last Saturday when a Canning effort was waved wide by one umpire despite protestations from his colleague – and the fact that it had clearly dissected the posts with something to spare.
Galway eventually closed out the game with a two-point advantage but Canning’s point-that-wasn’t came shortly after Burke’s dismissal – which he described as “very harsh” – and at a time when Offaly were threatening to turn the screw.
“I wouldn’t mind if there was an inch or two between the posts but it was three or four foot inside the post and it’s very frustrating, especially in a close game. That could have been the difference between winning and losing the game. All you want is a bit of fair play and I can’t see why a guy could make a mistake of such a wide margin to call it wrong and that’s the way it goes. That’s sport, but it is very frustrating when you’re out on the pitch and you’re trying your best.”
Fingers will remain crossed that a controversial call will not play a part this Sunday when Kilkenny provide the opposition for what will be Galway’s first ever appearance in a Leinster hurling final.
It is the meeting everyone wanted but the evidence thus far would suggest anything but a close contest as Brian Cody’s men annihilated Dublin in one semi-final while Galway took two attempts to struggle past a previously unheralded Offaly.
Both the Connacht side’s ties were played on hot, muggy summer days, and suspensions and injuries have also added to the toll on John McIntyre’s squad and Canning admits that bodies are tired ahead of Sunday’s stern test.
Kilkenny have been keeping themselves to themselves, tipping away in the confines of Nowlan Park, but who can say which approach will prove to be the more suitable for the task to come?
“Every player will tell you he just wants to play matches and the more the merrier. It’s hard to know. They were very tough games the last two weeks, especially coming in to play Kilkenny.
“You want to be in good physical condition and as fresh as possible.
“That’s not going to happen when you are after playing the last two weekends. We saw it last year when we played Waterford (in the All-Ireland quarter-final) and we got caught playing three weekends in a row. We are just hoping that the same thing won’t happen this year.”
Add their unconvincing performance for most of the game against Wexford to their failure to shake Offaly off over the course of 140 minutes and there are legitimate reasons to question just how close Galway can push Kilkenny right now.
Some observers detected signs of rustiness in Kilkenny’s defeat of Dublin. Canning saw the opposite and pointed out that the deficit between the two counties had more than tripled in the 12 months since their last championship meeting.
“They are a lot fresher. There is no talk about them coming into the game. They rested a lot of their established players (in the league) guys in their late twenties, early thirties.
“That is always good for a team coming in very fresh with a good physical game against Dublin behind them. They are looking even better this year than they were the last couple of years.”
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