Wednesday 28 September 2016

Connolly furore adds more fuel to replay furnace

Published 05/09/2015 | 02:30

Aidan O’Shea and Philly McMahon are once again likely to be in close proximity to each other when Mayo face Dublin in Croke Park today
Aidan O’Shea and Philly McMahon are once again likely to be in close proximity to each other when Mayo face Dublin in Croke Park today

Thirty years ago this weekend, Dublin played Mayo in an All-Ireland semi-final replay, which was cloaked in controversy.

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Then, as now, the re-match was required when Mayo earned a second chance after battling back from a seven-point deficit in the first game.

It was a spectacular recovery but the real talking point centred on how their left half-back, John Finn, came to have his jaw broken.

It happened in an off-the-ball incident, which none of the officials or anyone in the crowd of 40,295 saw.

Not recognising the extent of the injury, Finn played on. It was only when he cooled down that he realised something serious was wrong. X-rays followed and he went on to spend a few nights in hospital.

Unsurprisingly, an investigation yielded nothing so when Mayo lined up against Dublin in the replay, Finn sat in the stands, while whoever hit him was playing.

The controversy generated a surge of interest in the replay, when the attendance shot up by 24,000 on the drawn game to over 64,000. On that basis, a crowd of 106,000 would attend this replay if Croke Park had the capacity.

Mayo were outraged by the Finn affair, leading to a 'let's do it for John' mentality. It didn't work.

Dublin won the replay by eight points on a day when Ciarán Duff scored two goals.

'Doing it for John' was a nice idea for Mayo but that type of false motivation rarely delivers very much. In fact, it can be counterproductive, since it dilutes the real focus.

There's a lesson there for Dublin as they prepare for this evening's replay. All week, they raged against what they perceived to be an injustice for Diarmuid Connolly over the one-match ban imposed after his ground war with Lee Keegan drew a red card late on last Sunday.

Distraction

The battle to win a reprieve for Connolly was, no doubt, motivated by the best intentions but history shows that however hard a camp works at banishing a controversial issue from the training ground, it remains a distraction.

In any event, it was impossible to keep the Connolly affair out of Dublin's preparations this week for very practical reasons.

Jim Gavin and his extended backroom team would have parsed and analysed every detail of last Sunday's action with a view to getting an edge for today.

Aspects of the game-plan that needed to be tweaked would have been assessed, both on a team and individual basis.

However, when it came to examining Connolly's role with a view to maximising its impact, it had to be done without knowing whether he would be free to play, scarcely an ideal situation for player or management.

It's different when a player is trying to beat the clock with an injury issue. Plans can be discussed openly on the basis of what happens if he can't play.

It's not the same with a player trying to beat a suspension rap, whose case is running through the disciplinary rooms on three successive nights so close to such an important game. Then, it becomes an irritant.

It may well generate a siege mentality, an 'us against the world' attitude, but how helpful is that? Teams don't need that extra motivational push for a semi-final replay and certainly not one which is based on some perceived injustice for a colleague.

Every player has a right to take his case through all stages of the disciplinary process and team managements and County Boards invariably feel on obligation to provide support.

However, there are times when the greater good of a squad is best served by taking the punishment and moving on, rather than allowing it to become a distraction.

The Connolly affair seems one such case, even if Dublin argue that he was being held so tightly by Keegan that lashing out was an understandable reflex reaction.

There is a lot frustration in Dublin over what they believe is unfair application of the rules, not necessarily as they relate solely to Connolly, but in a wider context.

The decision to rescind the red card picked up by Mayo sub Kevin Keane during the All-Ireland quarter-final win over Donegal raised eyebrows, not just in Dublin but throughout the country.

It seemed a straight-forward case but, for some reason, the Central Hearings Committee found that "the alleged infraction was not proven".

That must come as news to David Gough, the referee who sent off Keane.

Other cases were overturned too in recent weeks, while Connolly also had a red card rescinded after being sent off in the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final against Donegal. That enabled him to play in the final.

Debate

The Connolly affair apart, last Sunday's game generated one of the most intense debates of the year, teased out across all strands of media.

Naturally, much of it was blatantly partisan, with claims from Mayo that action should have been taken against Philly McMahon for his 'close head encounter' with Aidan O'Shea.

They also argued - with some justification it should be said - that O'Shea was regularly fouled off the ball without getting a free.

Dublin could make the exact same complaint in relation to the treatment of Bernard Brogan.

And, the circumstances in which Rory O'Carroll was forced out in the third minute with a severe facial cut were so borderline that Cillian O'Connor was lucky he didn't find himself before the disciplinary beaks.

Dublin could also contend that it was very much in Mayo's interest for Keegan to engage Connolly on the ground in the tussle that led to the dismissal.

Yet, when all the books from the day were balanced, Dublin's No.12 was the only player facing a ban.

Ironically, Keegan found himself in the same position last year after being sent off against Kerry in the drawn semi-final.

He fought the case and was cleared in time for the replay, where he had a quiet game by his standards.

It certainly wasn't the first time that a player who got a late reprieve didn't perform at his best.

The controversial background to this evening's game increases the pressure on Laois referee, Eddie Kinsella, who takes over from Joe McQuillan. Not that it can all be left to Kinsella.

It's crucial that his linesmen and umpires play their part too in picking up anything that's outside the referee's vision range. That didn't appear to be the case with Joe McQuillan's team last Sunday, except for the incident which led to Connolly's dismissal late on.

Irish Independent

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