‘All-Ireland Day’ a memorable portrait of the year’s highlight
RTÉ documentary also a revealing insight into the onerous job of a big match referee
Referee David Coldrick: the All-Ireland Day documentary showed just what it’s like to be charged with refereeing a hectic All-Ireland final. Referee: James Crombie/Inpho
All-Ireland Day, produced by Loosehorse and shown on Monday night on RTÉ was as vivid a portrait of the great day as has been seen. Taken from an almost dizzying array of perspectives, the documentary pieced together the thoughts of a cast of individuals, all of whom were integral to this year’s third Sunday in September.
It’s not surprising that much of the reaction has centred on the open-microphone access to referee David Coldrick, as it gave a fascinating insight into what it’s like to be caught in the middle of two teams on the biggest stage of the year but there were other resonant contributions.
The idea was simply to record the stories of those involved: from broadcasters to groundsmen to a member of the Artane Band and most poignantly the son of the late John Kerins, goalkeeper on the jubilee team, Cork’s 1990 footballers, who were honoured on the day.
You might feel that the absence of players leaves a void but Kerry selector Cian O’Neill (now manager of his native Kildare) gives a view from the dressing room whereas the Rock family are represented by Joe and his father, Joe senior, now 90, whose family have been getting Croke Park ready on big match days for nearly a century and whose cousins Barney and his son Dean have been winning All-Irelands with Dublin for a couple of generations.
David Coldrick has always been one of the least excitable referees on the inter-county scene. What might have been seen as diffidence earlier in his career has evolved into a patient and punctiliously polite demeanour, like a schoolteacher with a difficult class.
A highly regarded referee, he was also seen as someone with a sufficiently authoritative grasp of rule-book issues to be involved in the roll-out of the black card as one of the tutors who travelled around briefing match officials before its introduction at the start of last year.
He says in the course of the programme that he doesn’t read media or other critiques of his performances because he knows himself how he’s done in a match.
Anyone who has spoken to him will know that that’s not posturing either. A referee watches the video with baited breath because he knows immediately if his decision was wrong. That reaction is primary and everything else including public outcry, secondary.
What the documentary showed with such clarity was the stress and pressure under which a referee must operate. He has fellow officials in his ear, tipping him off about ‘situations’ developing elsewhere on the field but must keep firmly focused on the play.
Compare this with rugby in which referees earn plaudits for controlling the play and directing wayward forwards to leave the ball alone or some other such nuggets of advice but with a clear offside line, the only points of engagement in the game are in front of the official where the ball is and frequently half of the players on the pitch are gathered in its vicinity.
During the All-Ireland, Coldrick is almost preternaturally courteous to the players, using their first names and explaining why he has given the decision in question.
The players in general are like an unruly classroom, carping and arguing with decisions and in a memorable sequence after Aidan O’Mahony has earned a black card for the rugby tackle on Kevin McManamon, the referee has to call him four times, “Aidan, Aidan, Aidan . . . AIDAN,” as the Kerry player walks away ignoring him.
Eventually he gets his attention and shows the black card, explaining: “It’s a pull down, Aidan. Okay.”
Otherwise there are frequent exhortations to participants to “play the ball” and attempts to calmly explain to players why they’re being penalised
There is also an event in the match that created later controversy, involving Kieran Donaghy, the incident for which Philip McMahon was suspended for gouging him. From the referee’s point of view the matter is brought to his attention by Donaghy himself and Coldrick dismisses it.
It has to be pointed out that Donaghy in the random clips we see is constantly in Coldrick’s ear and even gets indignant when being reprimanded for tripping Stephen Cluxton on one of the latter’s safaris up the field to take a free and then squabbling with him over where it should be taken.
The kick sails wide and legendary Kerry broadcaster Weeshie Fogarty, who also features as a contributor to the programme, observes: “Kieran Donaghy’s bit of gamesmanship seemed to have worked there. It definitely put Cluxton off that little bit.”
Overall the programme makes a solid argument for wiring up referees for all televised matches. Were their exchanges with referees to be made public knowledge every week, this might ultimately have a moderating effect on behaviour.
The publishing and broadcasting of GAA events and features have so improved over the past 20 years that there’s a wistful sense of what might have been when you think of other matches.
Denis Mahony captained Dublin in the 1955 final against Kerry and he was interviewed in these pages the weekend of this year’s All-Ireland. His anecdotes and reminiscences of the excitement in the city at the first native Dublin side to compete at that level were evocative but imagine if there had been a documentary like this to capture for posterity one of history’s great finals.
I’m sure they’ll still be watching this with interest in 60 years.
nAll-Ireland Day is currently available on the RTÉ Player