Analysis: Dublin would have a strong case if Connolly is handed a lengthy ban
JIM Gavin didn’t look particularly angst-ridden in the moments after Saturday’s opening Leinster SFC win but then, as he told us, he had only been made aware of an incident involving Diarmuid Connolly and a linesman (Ciarán Branagan) when he was asked for an opinion about it.
Other than that, it had been a nothing sort of evening, the class of routine victory to which Dublin and Gavin have become intimately accustomed at this time of year.
The All-Ireland champions, operating at a level unfamiliar with their best, disappearing over the horizon as the sun set on an early June evening in O’Moore Park, Portlaoise.
The potential for collateral damage however, was increased by Connolly’s actions.
By now, Gavin will have viewed the incident a number of times and asked the same questions most in Portlaoise did on Saturday evening.
Why did Connolly place his hand on Ciarán Branagan after freeing himself from a physical exchange with three Carlow players which had spilled over the sideline?
Here, Connolly - who incidentally, was offered no protection by the match officials and came in for some fairly rustic treatment - appeared to remonstrate with Branagan over the passage of play immediately beforehand, though put himself at serious risk by making physical contact, however slight.
Why did Branagan – an experienced senior inter-county referee in his own right - make no communication to match ref, Seán Hurson?
Why did Hurson take no action when he was standing so close and looking directly at the interaction?
And will (here’s where it gets complicated) the GAA’s Central Competitions Control Committee deem that Connolly has a case to answer?
For it to do so, the CCCC “must first seek clarification from the referee that he did not adjudicate on,” the incident at the time.
Customarily, the CCCC initiates retrospective punishment, but not exclusively so, on matters on which the referee did not see.
Clearly, both Branagan and Hurson witnessed the action and neither registered any discernible response.
Connolly was not reprimanded at the time and it is on this basis that any potential punishment may fail to stick. It is unlikely that Hurson would change his mind over the nature of the incident if asked by the CCCC to review it.
An automatic 12-week ban attached to physical interference with an official would elapse the night before the All-Ireland semi-final Dublin will play in if they win Leinster and a subsequent All-Ireland quarter-final.
Recently, Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney and Tipperary goalkeeper Evan Comerford were both slapped with precisely this punishment for the same infraction.
There are vital differences in the cases, however.
McGeeney was banned for a verbal altercation with Joe McQuillan, who was a linesmen during Armagh’s last League match against Tipperary in April and was mentioned by referee Niall Cullen in his official report.
Comerford was similarly identified by Paddy Russell for ‘minor physical interference’ after he was red-carded in a club game last month.
Naturally, Dublin will hope this all goes away very quickly but it seems they would have a strong case should the GAA decide to ban Connolly on the inaction of the relevant officials.
Connolly’s faux pas was the headline of an evening unlikely to make the end-of-season highlights reel.
Carlow came with a big, physical team, a tight, organised game-plan and a confrontational attitude sadly lacking in some of the teams Dublin usually play at this time of year.
Their reward was a position just behind Dublin’s shoulder coming towards the final lap but Brendan Murphy’s second yellow card killed any chance they had of making a race of it or keeping within single figures of Dublin’s final tally.
Dublin were sloppier than usual on Saturday night and some of their newer players let the opportunity of nailing down a more permanent spot for the summer get away.
Con O’Callaghan made his first start but his shooting was poorly calibrated early on and two late frees, after Dean Rock had departed, was his sum scoring total.
Niall Scully got on plenty of ball but like most of the Dublin players – with the noble exceptions of Ciarán Kilkenny, Jack McCaffrey and James McCarthy – he found the thicket of bodies inside the Carlow ‘45’ too dense to penetrate .
However, the Templeogue Synge St man he did score one first half point from play, was also fouled on two separate occasions for frees that Rock converted and dovetailed well with McCaffrey for McCaffrey’s left-footed point in the 18th minute.
Outside of Kilkenny, you could make a clean argument for Dublin’s most effective forward being Bernard Brogan, who only came on after 45 minutes but managed to grace the day by scoring his first and second Championship points in a ground other than Croke Park.
“It’s good exposure for those players,” Gavin reflected.
“But we are used to it at this stage so really whatever way the opposition tend to set up, we can’t control that.
“We’ve done most of our work in the last number of weeks on our game-plan, we come away with 19 points and we are happy with that.”
Kilkenny’s calm use of possession amongst a densely-populated Carlow defence was one of the game’s highlights.
Similarly, McCaffrey’s spurts forward and two exceptional points on the run on what was his first Championship match since the 2015 All-Ireland final lit up an otherwise slow-moving affair.
“Losing Brendan (Murphy) was too big a blow,” Carlow manager Turlough O’Brien reflected. “Their numerical advantage told against us.”
Gavin meanwhile pronounced himself “happy to come away tonight with the win in the opening round of the championship. It’s the first step on our journey in 2017, we are not sure where it will take us but we are just glad to get out of the box.”
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