Brian Gavin: John McGrath should have seen red at the Gaelic Grounds

I came in for a bit of criticism during the week about Offaly football matters, which I’ll come back to shortly, but I’m never going to shy away from calling it like I see it. At referees seminars, I would have been known for speaking my mind, whether I was right or wrong, and it’s an attitude I’ll be sticking to here, writes Brian Gavin.

Of the three hurling matches I saw at the weekend, the Limerick-Tipperary was the most eventful. John McGrath can count his lucky stars he wasn’t sent off in the first half. The jab of the hurl on Seán Finn was a dangerous one and I would imagine by the amount of time James McGrath took deliberating with his umpires that he was considering showing a red card.

In the end, he issued a yellow to McGrath but it was red or nothing. Finn did give him a tug first but the reaction was pure frustration from McGrath. That he got to play the entire game was a blessing for him.

Such incidents can be difficult ones for referees. I remember the 2013 All-Ireland final between Clare and Cork and my umpires and myself had a call to make on Darach Honan and Shane O’Neill in the closing stages. Both of them struck each other at different stages. In the end, I too showed a yellow card to the pair - I would have considered the significance of the game, the pressure involved and how finely balanced it was. There might have been some cause to hand down harsher punishments but I thought otherwise.

Limerick would also have felt aggrieved in the build-up to Dan McCormack’s opening goal for Tipperary that Diarmuid Byrnes wasn’t awarded a free for a hurl around his neck. A few hefty challenges, most fair, shoulder-to-shoulder ones, also occurred before the ball was crossed for Tipperary’s goal but James McGrath should’ve blown for a free in the first place.

Tipperary corner-back Donagh Maher was shown a yellow card for persistent fouling and Seamus Hickey should have followed him. He made a series of fouls, mostly on Jason Forde, but wasn’t punished to the extent Maher was.

In the second half, James didn’t hold up play for a late foul on substitute Brendan Maher. It was a free in the first place but that wasn’t given and play was allowed to develop as Maher lay on the ground.

Referees have been told to continue the action unless the injury is to the head or looks serious but this certainly was in the second category (even though he would later play on).

James didn’t have such a bad second half and I wrote recently about how he would be hoping to get some freshness back. He’s one of the most experienced referees now and he would have been eager to have a flawless display but this wasn’t it. Then again, he has Offaly-Wexford next week and he can grow into the Championship. It’s in the next couple of weeks where lads are really aiming to nail down a marker for the big matches ahead.

In Cork, Seán Cleere would have been happy with his game. Refereeing Cork down through the years, I’ve found that they don’t bring huge physicality. They have loads of lovely, fast hurlers and when you have those type of players it lends itself to an easy game to referee.

Having said that, they face Tipperary in Thurles next Sunday and the home team will be under pressure. In such scenarios referees brace themselves for counties who have a point to prove and Tipperary are now in that category. John Keenan will prepare himself for that.

Clare will be the same in Ennis, a different, some might say woundeded animal, and the crowd there will be very vocal. I won’t say they’re intimidating but Paud O’Dwyer will get their opinion every time and it’s the claustrophobic type of place where the referee has to stand up for himself.

I was also in Nowlan Park and, like Seán in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, James Owens wasn’t hugely tested. It wasn’t an overly physical game although some Kilkenny supporters were aggrieved with some calls and Conor Mahon should have been yellow carded for a frontal charge on Cillian Buckley. Overall, it was good to see James back in action after surgery and his first match since the Waterford-Cork All-Ireland semi-final last year.

In Enniskillen on Saturday, Paddy Neilan had no choice but to send off Niall Grimley for a neck-high tackle and he was correct in dismissing Armagh selector Paddy McKeever to the stand too. People were under the impression he was penalised for getting onto Paddy too much but it was for an incident with another team official. We need to quell these instances on the sideline and Paddy did just that.

Lastly, onto a challenging week in my own county and I can say with hand on heart that everything I said on Offaly was factual despite what was suggested from those outside the county.

Everyone in Offaly knows it too.

The letter issued by the players wasn’t even typed up by the players. No player signed it and they just wanted to go back playing.

I know Stephen Wallace was hurting at the time but he said he accepted his punishment when he didn’t really, bringing it all the way to the Munster Council. Offaly chairman Tommy Byrne should have been on top of it if he knew what the story was last Friday week. The entire thing dragged on too long.

After a bad week, there’s now huge positivity in Offaly football with the four lads appointed to the interim management team and Brian Darby and Johnny Moloney could be on their way back. Eoin Rigney and Niall McNamee haven’t been ruled out either. The players seem to be in a happier place going into the qualifiers.



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