As back-to-back All-Ireland champions, only the third of their kind in the last 26 years, Dublin have to expect some attention.
Within their camp, it’s easy for the perception to grow that everybody is against them.
Dublin will argue that they didn’t need to win All-Irelands for that to happen but the bounty on their heads has surely increased.
The interview Jim Gavin gave to the media on Wednesday afternoon was arguably the most expansive he has given since the beginning of his reign in late 2012, which will now go on to 2019.
But after Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s pre-league comments about Dublin, it wasn’t so out of the ordinary and from the Donegal round game to the Kerry one, Gavin has regularly hinted at not getting a fair crack of the whip from referees this year.
Defending not just a title but a monopoly, Dublin, at least off the field, have never had to be as defensive as they are now. As for the now famous “narrative”, Gavin had the opportunity to speak about it after losing to Kerry but chose Wednesday’s Leinster championships launch to do so.
On that count, he showed decorum but was he so precise with his remarks on Wednesday? Here, we break them down.
Gavin: “When you see referees that have refereed previous games asked to justify decisions they gave, or didn’t give, against Dublin, that’s fine. I’ve no problem with that. But it needs to be balanced. It needs to be opened up to say, ‘what happened to the other team as well?’ It can’t be just one focus on one particular team. That’s where the narrative is coming from.”
Verdict: Gavin’s comments reference the comments made by Maurice Deegan and David Gough. Last November, at an event we attended, Deegan was asked if he had any regrets from the replay and he said his main one was not black carding John Small. He could, if he felt it was the case, have mentioned Lee Keegan’s black card, but didn’t. For the Small foul on Andy Moran, he was unsighted, as was his Hogan Stand side linesman. In an interview with LMFM Sport’s David Sheehan in March, Gough was asked if the verbal abuse he received from some Kerry supporters in light of the decision not to punish a Kevin McManamon foul on Peter Crowley was the most testing situation he has experienced as a referee. Gough admitted he, too, couldn’t see the incident and therefore deemed it was not a foul. Neither question, although open, was leading. Deegan certainly wasn’t asked to justify the Small call and Gough elaborated on his decision without any prodding.
Gavin: “[T]he facts demonstrate, in terms of yellow and black cards, that we’re not a cynical team. We try to play it the right way. Take Lee Keegan’s fantastic goal in the All-Ireland final series last year, if we were a cynical team he wouldn’t have got through but he did. They are the facts.”
Verdict: Kerry will consider this a dig as they have picked up a sizeable 25 black cards in Division 1 since the punishment was introduced in 2014, 16 more than Dublin who have played four more league games than them. Dublin started out as a squeaky-clean team but picked up five black cards in spring 2015 although Diarmuid Connolly, with two, was their only black card recipient in this year’s league. Looking back at Keegan’s goal, there seems to have been little opportunity for Dublin to have been cynical.
Gavin: “I still think that referees have been influenced by the narrative that we are a cynical team.”
Verdict: Even if Connolly now walks a black card tightrope, like Cooper did last year, the low black card count against Dublin doesn’t substantiate this claim. Was Deegan influenced by what former Dublin players said about Keegan prior to him being black carded in the All-Ireland final replay last October? Deegan insisted he wasn’t influenced by the pre-match Connolly-Keegan media coverage but then Gavin acknowledges referees are open to persuasion.
Gavin: “He (Connolly) got a black card up in Monaghan that clearly wasn’t. And the referee was very close to see it. There was no grey area about it.”
Verdict: We can safely assume that, in the event the St Vincent’s man picks up a third black card or a double yellow card in the championship and is proposed a cumulative one-match ban, Dublin will contest it. As a result of a procedure change, black cards can only be queried when they form part of a recommended cumulative suspension case.
Gavin: “You would have to certainly question the logic behind exposing a referee with that experience in those high-pressure games. You certainly have to question, from Croke Park’s perspective, maybe Seanie Walsh from Kerry, he’s the head of the referees committee... I can’t answer those questions.”
Verdict: If it wasn’t Dublin and Kerry or any pairing from the top six — Donegal, Monaghan, Mayo and Tyrone being the other four — then Paddy Neilan’s appointment could have been justified. The Roscommon man is fancied to make a name for himself in the coming years but this was a step too far. Gavin also cited Seán Hurson as an inexperienced appointment for the Kerry-Dublin round game in Tralee, which would have chimed with our view at the time. As for Gavin’s other comment, it is Willie Barrett who officially assigns referees to games as the national referees appointment committee chairman.
Gavin: “I still think that (the black card is) not punitive enough. To be able to replace the player was a cop-out, bringing the sin-bin in, it works.”
Verdict: Right on.
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