One-size-fits-all punishment doing marked GAA men no favours

Referees opting for two yellow cards when top talents targeted via off-the-ball tactics

 Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly was sent off following this challenge on Anthony Thompson of Donegal last weekend – having being booked earlier on. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly was sent off following this challenge on Anthony Thompson of Donegal last weekend – having being booked earlier on. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

That ancient line between sinners and sinned against is clearly blurred. For every Philly McMahon, Lee Keegan and Cathal McCarrron – assiduous man marking defenders equally proficient at raiding forward – there are the much-maligned figures like Diarmuid Connolly, Aidan O’Shea and Seán Cavanagh.

Any successful sporting platoon needs both types of soldier but this season it has become a repetitive tactic to remove the most talented by duping overworked match officials.

“I don’t think Jim Gavin was the only one crying last weekend,” said Tomás Ó Flatharta at the launch of the Volkswagen Kilmacud Crokes Football Sevens, which take place on September 17th.

“Quite a number of managers have done it this year. I think there is no team around that sin at one end and are not caught out at the other end themselves.”

And still, the increasingly insidious nature of Gaelic football brought similar complaints from Gavin and Mickey Harte after last Saturday’s All-Ireland quarter-finals in Croke Park.

The Dublin and Tyrone managers both said the targeting of their marquee forwards, Connolly and Cavanagh, has gone too far with referees taking the easy option of yellow-carding two players for one incident.

“I don’t think there is much pity for anyone who is crying like that at the moment,” said Ó Flatharta, the former Westmeath, Galway and Laois manager. “Most teams are doing it. They are committing the crime themselves and being punished at the same time.”

Ethical standards

“There is a lot of sledging, a lot of diving on the ball and off the ball stuff going on all the time and I don’t think any team can put up their hand and say, ‘We don’t do any of those things.’”

In relation to Keegan and Cavanagh both being yellow -carded before Mayo and Tyrone resumed after half-time, Harte said: “Look, this thing about there is always two involved in something. There isn’t. There is somebody that starts it. [The officials] need to be more tuned in to who starts these things.”

In response to Ryan McHugh and Connolly being yellow carded, after both players went to ground early in the first half of Dublin’s victory over Donegal, Gavin said: “It was all very predictable going into it; we all knew that some of our players would receive special attention. That was the case. It was up to the officials to act upon it. If they don’t, the eight of them, four umpires and four men in black, if they don’t act upon it they are letting the players down on the pitch. On both sides by the way.”

Both Cavanagh and Connolly were subsequently sent off – the former for a second yellow, the latter following a black card, despite both committing the same high arm challenge on O’Shea and Anthony Thompson respectively.

“I have seen plenty of bad decisions by referees this year but if we go to Eoghan O’Gara’s situation last Sunday – what he did was a strike and a strike is a red card,” Ó Flatharta continued.

“On one side we have people saying referees should do their job properly yet when they do their job properly the same people are calling for Eoghan O’Gara to be let off in this situation because, you know, he didn’t hurt his opponent. But that’s neither here nor there. They are after looking at this five or six times on TV while the referee or the umpire just saw it the once. So, I think the referee did the right job in the situation. There is an appeal process and hopefully they will get him free.”

Ray Cosgrove, a Dublin All Star forward in 2002 who recently stepped down from Johnny Magee’s Wicklow management, was asked if he felt the game has developed a nasty persona – in the sense that key figures like Connolly and Cavanagh will at some point in every match be dragged to ground by an opponent seeking to draw double yellow cards?

Marquee forward

Stephen Rochford

“I thought after the Leinster final when [Westmeath manager] Tom Cribbin said Diarmuid had been earmarked for a bit of treatment that Jim and the boys would have discussed that,” said Cosgrove.

“I was hoping Diarmuid would have kept moving and not picked up a cheap yellow card like that.”

The Sunday Game’s highlights programme zoomed in and slowed down the McHugh/Connolly incident. Tomás Ó Sé, in analysis, believed it should have been a black card for Connolly and nothing for McHugh.

But Cosgrove said: “It is something that umpires and linesmen are going to have to get a grip of. It is not too often that a forward is trying to drag a defender to the ground. We are normally the ones looking for space to get on the ball and kick it over the bar.”

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