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Joe Canning: Thin margins notable on day when Limerick got rub of the green

Key calls went the champions’ way against Cork but, in top-level sports, teams bend rules and test referees

When I analysed Limerick on the Sunday Game last weekend I did it in two segments; in one of them I was praising Limerick for the number of goal chances they created; the other was about how many crucial refereeing calls went their way.

Which segment do you think Limerick people were talking about?

I live just outside Limerick city, so people would see me around the place, but in the social media age you don’t need to meet people — or know people — to get feedback.

For a couple of days I took stick from Limerick supporters about my analysis of the infringements that were missed in the build-up to their two first-half goals, and my thoughts on their second-half penalty — which I wasn’t convinced was the right call.


It was a water off a duck’s back to me. I got plenty of that stuff when I was playing. But I thought the reaction was interesting. I was being accused of bias when all the points I made were based on clear video evidence. They weren’t opinions; all I was doing was highlighting what took place, in black and white.

Did William O’Donoghue throw the ball for Cathal O’Neill’s goal? According to the slow-motion replays, there was no separation between the ball and his hand, as there would be in the act of making a hand pass.

Did Aaron Gillane play the defender’s hurl before he caught the ball in the build-up to Seamus Flanagan’s goal? Yes, it’s clear on the screen. The referee missed it. Anybody watching the telly could see it. Plain as day.

Did I ever play a defender’s hurl and get away with it? Of course I did. The point I was making was that in top-level sports outcomes can be decided by very fine margins and that was the case in the Gaelic Grounds last Sunday. All of the big calls went Limerick’s way.

Did Damien Cahalane pick the ball clean off the ground? The replays showed clearly that he didn’t. The referee got it wrong. Limerick got a handy free from in front of the goal.

This was a one-point game. Looking back on the match, all of those calls were huge. Nobody said I was wrong, they just said I was biased. How can you square that?

I guess it’s the nature of being a supporter that you’ll see what you want to see and believe what you want to believe. All of the feedback I got from outside Limerick was that my analysis of those incidents was accurate.

In top-level sports, teams bend the rules and test referees. It is the nature of the beast. Look at all the pulling and dragging that goes on off the ball. Every team does it, but it goes on behind the referee’s back and umpires or linesmen rarely intervene. Defenders make a percentage call on that kind of stuff. That’s what O’Donoghue and Gillane did as well: they made a percentage call on not being caught and they got away with their infringements.

The mad thing is that my analysis of Galway, my own county, was much harsher than anything I said about Limerick, and there wasn’t a word about it. I watched that game and they looked like a team of individuals, especially in the first half.

There was no pattern to Galway’s play. Players were shooting on sight from halfway and you could see the frustration of the players on the inside line.

Daithí Burke came out afterwards and said Galway were an embarrassment in the first half, and he was right. Being 10 points down at half-time isn’t going to be good enough against Kilkenny.

I played with a lot of those lads and people wonder if it’s hard for me to analyse the games honestly. I’m okay with it. If I was still playing with Galway what I said the other night is what I would be saying in the dressing-room after the match or at training on Tuesday night. I won’t shy away from saying it now just because I’m outside the circle.

I keep my distance from the lads because I don’t want them thinking that I’m snooping around for a bit of information. When I was playing my brother Ollie was an analyst on Sky Sports and he never asked me anything about what was going on in the Galway camp. He respected that privacy totally.

When I’m analysing Galway games in the media now it has to be a clean slate. I have to call it as I see it. There’s no other way to do it properly. People would see through you if you tried to do it any other way. It just wouldn’t be fair to anybody.

It was an amazing day to be working on the Sunday’s Game’s evening show. Incredibly intense and long. Myself and Donal Óg Cusack were the hurling analysts on the day, so we had to be in RTÉ at lunchtime before the Leinster games threw in at 2pm.

The way it works we’d be in a room, with all the games on different screens, but we’d pick a game each to focus on. For the early games, for example, I did Galway vs Dublin and Donal Óg did Wexford vs Kilkenny, but there was so much going on in both games that you’d find yourself looking across at the other screen. Later on, when the Munster games were over, we watched Westmeath vs Antrim.

It was a mad day. You’re trying to get your head around everything you’ve seen, and come up with stuff that mightn’t have been noticed by the lads analysing the game live at the venues, or highlight things that they didn’t have a chance to go into in detail. There’s not a whole pile of time to edit the clips you want to show so you need to be really clear about the points you’re making.

A lot of people were asking why the Wexford-Kilkenny game wasn’t shown on RTÉ or on GAAGO. And I don’t know is the answer. I definitely thought it should have been shown. If that was the only game on telly that day we’d still be talking about it.

Anyway, as it turned out, nobody was short of things to talk about.