Meath's deferral of final decision makes chance of replay less likely


LEINSTER SFC FINAL:NO REPLAY – not yet anyway. Whatever hopes Louth may still harbour of being offered a replay of Sunday’s controversial Leinster football final appeared even more remote last night when the executive committee of the Meath County Board failed to reach any decision on the issue, claiming instead that “they need more time”.

Time, however, is of the essence here, because unless a replay is fixed for this weekend then it almost certainly won’t happen at all.

The executive committee did discuss their options for over two hours in Navan last night, but when they then took those thoughts to the full board of delegates, county board chairman Barney Allen merely declared that no decision had been made, nor would he allow any further discussion on the night.

“We need more time to discuss the issues here,” he said, and that was that. Clearly, Croke Park’s statement earlier in the evening that under GAA Rules, a re-fixture cannot be ordered as the referee’s report of the full time score is final had further complicated the issue – this despite the fact that, in his referee report, Martin Sludden had admitted his error in awarding Meath’s winning goal.

In the end, the only question that was raised from the delegates came from Pat O’Neill, former chairman of the Meath County Board, who asked if the executive had themselves received a copy of the referee’s report. He was told they had not.

The Louth county executive committee also met last night to review Sunday’s incidents, and released a short statement: “On behalf of Louth GAA we wish to condemn the unsavoury incidents after the match. We will provide full co-operation with the relevant authorities to deal with the offenders.

“We are also seeking a copy of the referee’s report for clarification purposes to enable the Louth executive committee to consider all options available.”

The Leinster Council will now inevitably be consulted by Meath, and indeed Louth, given they are the ones who must still approve any replay, rather than Croke Park, but the Council has so far declined to make any comment on the potential outcome.

The issue was further complicated when it emerged members of the Meath team and management met separately in Gormanston last night, where reportedly there were “mixed feelings” on offering a replay – although it’s unclear what influence, if any, that might have had on the county executive.

The fact that a couple of Meath players had been assaulted by irate Louth supporters in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s game didn’t help draw full sympathy.

So, the fall out from Sunday’s final continues, which had seen Louth leading 1-10 to 0-12 with injury time effectively up, before Joe Sheridan sent the ball into the Louth net – illegally, on a couple of counts – and with that all hell broke loose. The GAA’s brief statement issued earlier yesterday first of all “condemns the actions of a small number of supporters who entered the pitch enclosure in an effort to remonstrate with the match referee Martin Sludden at the end of the Leinster senior football final”.

It added that An Garda Siochána has been provided with the television footage of the post-match events and Croke Park post-match security procedures will be reviewed in light of yesterday’s unacceptable incidents.

But crucially, the GAA confirmed also “that the referee’s report has been received and the referee has stated that he made a mistake in awarding the Meath goal. However, under GAA Rules, a re-fixture cannot be ordered as the referee’s report of the full time score is final.”

However there was no indication the GAA had made any attempt to influence the Meath county board ahead of last night’s meeting: “No, our stance is, if you back people into a corner you don’t always get the response you want,” said GAA press officer Alan Milton. “But it’s also a Leinster fixture, so it would be up to them to deal with it, if so.”

Earlier yesterday, Louth manager Peter Fitzpatrick reiterated his severe disappointment at how events concluded on Sunday: “It’s just wrong, what happened. It took us 50 years to get here.

“The GAA are looking back at player discipline and everything else. I just think they should look back at this, if they have any decency at all, and do something.

“Because it was pure and utter daylight robbery. I don’t get a penny in this job. The players don’t get a penny. And we work so, so hard. For the referee to do what he did on us was totally out of order. All we want is fair play.”

Louth forward JP Rooney admited yesterday he had little sympathy for Sludden.

“I’m still waiting for somebody to say we’ve been the victims of a bad joke,” said Rooney, who has been a Louth senior footballer since 1999. “How could he give it?”

Three minutes into stoppage time, Rooney was booked for kicking the ball away as Louth tried to slow the game down and hang on for the win.

“I’m absolutely raging,” said the 30-year-old. “What’s the point in training all year when that happens? How he could give that goal, I don’t know.

“Aaron Hoey was pleading with him to consult with his umpires, but when he went in, he told them to put up the green flag. We had chances to shut out the game so in ways, we only have ourselves to blame. But a bit of fair play would be nice.

“You don’t want to see what happened afterwards but it’s heat of the moment stuff. A lot of the Louth people that went on are not violent people but when your blood’s up . . . I know it’s wrong people running at the ref – it’s an amateur game and he’s not getting anything out of it.

“But you can see why Louth people did it. He brought it on himself and I wouldn’t feel sorry for him.

“It always seems to be the minor counties that get the bad luck and the bad decisions at the end of each game. If it was the other way around, it definitely wouldn’t happen.”