Why can’t Clare simply accept defeat?
Acknowledging on one hand that opponents were better but on the other trying to undermine the referee is unacceptable
Clare’s manager Davy Fitzgerlad reacts during his side’s Munster Senior Hurling Championship semi-final defeat to Cork at Semple Stadium on June 15th. Photograph: Inpho.
It is turning into a stressful summer for hurling referees. Tipperary’s Johnny Ryan had charge of what may well have been the last Anthony Nash penalty and his application of a curious new interpretation – unbeknown to all apart, apparently, from an inner circle of referees and administrators – created such a furore that a new interpretation duly followed.
Effectively changing rules a few weeks into a season is no-one’s idea of best practice but in the circumstances it had to be done.
Worse was to follow for Westmeath’s James McGrath, who has been in the wars over the past two seasons.
He might have felt that he was due an uneventful championship after last year’s travails when having red carded Cork’s Patrick Horgan in the Munster final against Limerick, his decision was overturned, albeit on debatable grounds.
There were well meaning suggestions flying around – not from Cork – that he shouldn’t be considered for Cork matches, as he would find himself “under pressure”. There are so few elite referees that it would hardly be practical to prevent them from taking charge of matches involving counties in one of whose past matches the official had made a contentious decision.
Then again, top GAA referees put up with an awful lot.
In Sunday’s match McGrath had to put up with abuse from the crowd and remonstrations from Clare even at half-time. A first-half free count of 12-5 in Cork’s favour was adduced as if prima facie evidence that some wrong had been done.
Reasons for disgruntlement
Clare may have had had some reasons for disgruntlement in that Cork appeared to get some of their frees more easily and it wasn’t McGrath’s most convincing performance but a referee’s perception is something that both teams are meant to buy into before the match starts.
The barrage of implicit criticism and mealy-mouthed insinuation that followed the match was however unacceptable.
A year ago, after Cork had also beaten Clare in the Munster semi-final Davy Fitzgerald was asked was he unhappy with a concussion injury to John Conlon. He replied: “I’m unhappy with more than that. If you say anything you’re going to be accused of not taking a beating so I’m going to leave it but I won’t be leaving it when I get a chance to correct it properly with the people that matter. I’ll be talking to someone because I’m not happy with a certain amount of things.
“I’m not going to criticise anyone or say anything bad about anyone. I’ll deal with that myself in my own private manner. The most important thing today, we acknowledge that Cork were the better team and fair play to them. They won the game fairly and squarely.”
After Sunday’s match a question was put about the referee’s performance and drew a similarly oracular response.
“No, I’ll deal with that in my own way, so I will, but there is something I might speak about at the end of the year and there is going to have to be something looked at because I knew something was going to happen today before the game even happened and, trust me, it fair came a long way at half-time for trying to happen.
“And if you know that going into a game sure you’re wasting your time. What are you doing? Boys, we’re getting away from the most important thing here. There’s small little issues that I can deal with myself, that’s no problem. The important thing today was Cork played a great game of hurling. This is the most important thing.”
The Clare manager, for all his merits as a motivator and tactician, is also partial to what might be termed the “grievance agenda”.
Without irony he lamented after last year’s drawn All-Ireland final, “how do you get the breaks when you’re a small fish?” This was in spite of referee Brian Gavin extending a credit line of 30 seconds at the end of the match without which Cork would have been in Thurles on Sunday as All-Ireland champions.
In Fitzgerald’s defence these are quotes taken in the immediate aftermath of three matches that ended in disappointment. No manager is going to be at his most lucid in these circumstances.
What justification is there though for the Clare County Board chair to come out a day later and preposterously demand an investigation by the GAA’s Management Committee?
In an interview that was short on specific allegations and long on innuendo Michael McDonagh said: “We were beaten by a better team - we have no problem with that – but there are issues during that match that should be analysed by the higher authorities in Croke Park. And action should be taken.
“The whole match should be analysed from A-Z. They’re big enough men to see exactly what went on there. What I’m looking for is a complete analysis of the game by GAA management. They should get this done and a report should be sent out to each of the counties.”
Needless to say, management won’t be accepting that demand but here’s my investigation: As Clare keep saying, Cork were the better team. And . . . that’s about it. firstname.lastname@example.org