Meath rule out replay to leave Louth pondering options

Wed, Jul 14, 2010, 01:00

GAELIC GAMES:AS ANTICIPATED, Meath have declined to offer a replay of Sunday’s controversial Leinster football final in Croke Park. It now appears Louth’s last remaining hope of getting some justice – at least in their own minds – rests with the legal route.

A meeting of the Meath County Board reconvened in Navan last night, having failed, on Monday night, to reach a decision on the pressing issue of a replay.

In the end they delivered on the greater expectation that the result must, under GAA rule, still stand, and that, as far as they were concerned, “was the end of the matter”.

It means Meath go forward as Leinster football champions, in name at least.

Central to their decision, it seems, was the consultation with the Meath players and management earlier yesterday.

The 14-member executive committee of the county board had met with them separately in Navan, to hear their views gathered at a meeting in Gormanston on Monday evening. They were, reportedly, “almost unanimous” in their verdict not to favour any such offer of a replay, and that effectively ended the argument.

There was speculation that delegates of the Meath county board were more evenly split for and against the option of offering a replay, but once the players and managers were against it, such an outcome was always inevitable.

While this decision may bring to an end any further talk of a replay – or a refixture, to use the more correct term – it remains to be seen where Louth may yet take the issue. The management committee of the Louth County Board also met earlier yesterday – Louth football manager Peter Fitzpatrick also attended – and afterwards they issued a brief but significant statement: “On Tuesday July 13th a meeting was held by the management committee of the Louth County Board to consider all avenues available in light of events to date in relation to the Leinster senior football final on Sunday. We have received a copy of the referee’s report and have considered the contents and are seeking clarification on its contents. A further statement will be issued as matters evolve.”

What is at least so far clear is that in that referee’s report, Martin Sludden admitted his error in awarding Meath’s late, late winning goal on Sunday. Hardly surprising, to anyone who saw it, given Joe Sheridan sent the ball into the Louth net illegally, on a couple of counts – before all hell broke loose.

However, it emerged yesterday that Sludden, in his report, is understood to have claimed he initially blew for a penalty, for Meath, and when he subsequently saw the ball spill into the Louth net he allowed the goal. In other words, there was no admittance that he had actually made a wrong call in the moment; but rather only realised his mistake afterwards, when obviously hearing word of the goal being illegal (or indeed seeing it on television) would have been impossible to avoid.

This would appear to lesson Louth’s cause for challenging the result; it might have been different if Sludden had somehow claimed he didn’t mean to award the goal in the moment, as unlikely as that might sound.

In the meantime it also emerged yesterday that part of Louth’s clarification process involved confirming with the Leinster Council that Sunday’s result did in fact still stand, in light of Sludden’s admission – to which they were promptly told that indeed it did. This merely confirmed what the GAA had outlined on Monday, when confirming “the referee has stated that he made a mistake in awarding the Meath goal. However, under GAA Rules, a refixture cannot be ordered as the referee’s report of the full-time score is final.”

So, it would now appear the only options left open to Louth would be to pursue the issue with either the Disputes Resolution Authority (DRA), who historically only deal with GAA procedural issues, or with some more formal legal route. Either way, as things stand, Louth are due out on Saturday week in the final round of the qualifiers, as beaten provincial finalists, and that means time has effectively run out on their hopes of a replay somehow being ordered from a higher body.

The Louth team were in fact due to train last night with the remainder of the championship in mind.

Louth forward JP Rooney reacted to last night’s decision not to replay Sunday’s game by claiming it was the right one: “I’m delighted that there’s no replay. It would have been an anti-climax. That’s it, what’s done is done and we will try to forget about it now. It will be hard to get it out of our heads but we were training this evening and there was a big group there again. We’ll look forward to the next game and life goes on. When you see what happened in Donegal over the weekend, it puts everything into perspective. That was a real tragedy.

“What would we have gained from a replay? It was a lose-lose situation for Louth. If we went out and beat them, it would take away from the actual day that was in it last Sunday and if we lost, we would be in a worse situation. We’ll get the heads down now and you don’t want to be seen as babies, crying about it.

“But we can’t blame Meath, they’ve done nothing wrong. Croke Park should have had a say in this; the Leinster Council or whoever makes the decisions but they were passing the buck and putting the pressure on Meath. They should have made the call.”