Controversies highlight that the GAA must start to show some direction

Wed, Jul 14, 2010, 01:00

Darragh Ó Séargues that to have thrown the refixture decision over to the Meath County Board was a complete and utter cop-out

ONE TOPIC dominated conversation whether in shops, pubs or on the street. Everyone had an opinion, many a solution to avoiding the repetition of the ugly scenes that marred the final seconds and the immediate aftermath of the Leinster football final at Croke Park last Sunday.

A common thread from personal experience was a suggestion that the GAA needed to demonstrate leadership on the issues arising and not hope to be rescued by a generous gesture from the Meath County Board.

More of the week’s hottest topic later but first a brief look at the demise of one county and the resurgence in another’s fortunes last weekend.

Top marks to Wexford for pulling out a huge win in Galway but the focus for most people was in dwelling on just how poor the Galway team has fared in the last couple of years. As a player, up until last year I couldn’t help thinking “there but for the grace of God” when I consider the number of potholes Kerry almost disappeared down during the qualifiers in last season’s championship.

Leaving the result aside, the big concern I’d have about Galway football is their overdependence on Pádraig Joyce at this stage of his career. He is 33 years of age, yet remains a pivotal figure. He kicked four points from play last weekend but for Galway to progress they need to share the workload more evenly.

They have had success at underage level in recent times but they haven’t quite managed to harness that talent and ensure it filters through. They have been competitive for most of the last decade so this year’s shortcomings will hurt.

In contrast, Cork delivered an unequivocal statement of intent in their demolition of Cavan, both on the scoreboard and in the manner of their performance. It won’t have been lost on their keenest rivals for the Sam Maguire.

The Leesiders are back on track. Travelling to Wexford Park should bring them on even further as the bandwagon threatens to gather speed once again.

The events at Croke Park threaten to cast a long shadow and one from which the GAA will do well to emerge in the short term unless there is a sea-change in the attitude that has prevailed in recent days. In briefly focusing on football matters, I thought quality-wise it was a poor game. Credit though must go to Louth for the manner in which they performed.

They may have been written off in some quarters but I was up there last Friday and was struck by the self-belief I encountered.

It wasn’t just idle talk as Louth demonstrated in Croke Park. They should have won the game before we ended up with the farce, missing four or five frees which would have been more of a talking point were it not for the main event.

The fall-out from Sunday’s game affected four different parties tied by the one incident. Referee Martin Sludden is unlikely to live this down in the foreseeable future. Down in Kerry anytime we start getting stuck into an Offaly man about football, it only requires two words, “Séamus Darby”, and it quietens us pretty quickly. If Martin gets involved in any banter, no matter how good natured, he’s going to be pretty vulnerable: just look at referees to whom it has happened in the past. Just when Martin thinks everything is forgotten some bright spark in RTÉ will decide to stick it in the 2010 Reeling in the Yearsfootage. It’s an episode he won’t want to relive.

Louth’s devastation will be most keenly felt by the players: so-called underdogs do the same amount of weight training and conditioning, put the same amount of time in and play the same number of league matches as top-tier counties, for want of a better expression.

Victory in a Leinster final would have constituted a tremendous success for Louth when reflecting on the campaign, irrespective of whether they failed to win another match. For them to try to come back through the qualifiers is a massive ask mentally rather than physically when cruelly denied their primary goal; a Leinster football championship title. The anger of injustice will burn but it’s unlikely to sustain them through the qualifiers.

For their part, Meath will be very unhappy with their performance. They were poor at the back, had the odd moment in midfield but overall for a team that contested two All-Ireland semi-finals in recent years they didn’t look great. The fizz of the Dublin display had been replaced by a very flat performance.

The fourth participant in this saga is the GAA hierarchy. While the referee will have to shoulder some of the blame for the manner in which he handled the “goal that shouldn’t have been”, the GAA must show some direction and take charge rather than push the Meath County Board into the spotlight and put the onus on them to resolve the issue in a satisfactory manner or otherwise.

I understand about rules and regulations, Congress, due process and all that but there have been too many miscarriages of justice down the years for the same system to remain in place. This needs to be remedied now, not in 12 months’ time. At the very least the GAA should confirm they are going to be proactive about ensuring nothing like this ever happens again.

To throw this over to the Meath County Board is a complete and utter cop-out. The GAA is the governing body and should take responsibility in these circumstances. Meath played the game within the rules and played a good clean match. The referee made a blunder and apologised so the ball is back in the GAA’s court.

They have the wherewithal to ensure this situation does not happen again. They have all the video evidence and they have to take the bull by the horns and call it like they see it. Somebody from the GAA has to come out and take the lead. There is no point in handing it over to Meath and hoping they’ll provide the governing body of the sport with a resolution to the problem. The system for changing things is archaic and needs to be amended.

The first thing they need to implement is the introduction of goal-line technology where possible in the championship. This should include all provincial finals, matches at Croke Park. Why should they use video evidence for disciplinary procedures and not to resolve incidents that determine winning and losing? The costs of a TMO (Television Match Official) system are relatively minor, especially when contrasted with the revenue generated by the matches.

It’s generally accepted that rugby has the best format when it comes to dealing with contentious issues. Soccer is going to have to look at implementing it after the Frank Lampard fiasco during the World Cup.

Rugby has the right idea. Go to the television match official, review the incident immediately and then get it sorted out there and then. If there are other issues like disciplinary ones, you can resolve them later: they’re not for the referee to decide. In doing so you take some of the pressure off the officials and don’t end up with a referee being pushed and pulled.

The buck has to stop with the GAA. That just cuts out a pile of nonsense. It’s about putting another referee in a box in Croke Park with a two-way communication system with the referee and a couple of extra camera angles. It’s minimal extra cost. That would have saved so much grief over the last few days. This is very manageable in the short term.

Without wishing to trivialise what happened, I couldn’t believe Martin Sludden stood there with his notebook out trying to book players after the final whistle.

If that was me I would have been well gone out the gap. It was time to head for the hills. The Garda might have ushered him along a little bit quicker if he’d known how things were about to pan out.

Referees are under huge pressure and it’s not just the amateur officials. England’s Howard Webb is supposed to be the best referee in the world, given he got the soccer World Cup final, yet he got caught out.

The CCCC would have had great fun with Nigel de Jong’s karate kick. They’d be meting out some long holidays to lads after that sort of carry on: thankfully there were no Kerry players involved but we still have our fingers crossed down here.

For us to expect a better standard from referees we have to treat them with respect for the role they fulfil within the sport, even if it is a nominal reward like a holiday or even being paid for the day. Martin Sludden cannot get his name back. He made a mistake but the current system let him down too.

Another issue relates to the umpires who aren’t miked up to the referee. Why not? It wasn’t at Croke Park alone that the umpires got things wrong. There was also an example down in Semple Stadium.

I would also look at the age profile of the umpires because it is one aspect of officiating where you have to be really, really sharp at what you are doing.

If they are cutting back on the age profile of referees then they should be doing the same with umpires.

Rud Eile . . .

The Ulster final between Tyrone and Monaghan has the potential to be a cracking game of football. I have been very impressed with the way Monaghan have negotiated their way to Clones and the manner in which they have played. Everyone is well versed with Tyrone’s qualities and I believe that it will be a very open game.

Both teams have a lot of athleticism in their midst and also possess half-back lines that don’t have a panic attack when they go beyond midfield. This one is a game that should be played at high speed and I think Monaghan will make a right good run at it.

In Connacht, Kevin Walsh has done a superb job at Sligo and they will fancy their chances against a Roscommon side who are unlikely to dwell on poor league form. They know that finals are once-off affairs and certainly have a pedigree in the province when it comes to the big occasions.

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