Sunday 22 October 2017

The five biggest talking points of the 2015 Championship

Tiernan McCann hits the floor after Darren Hughes brushed his hair
Tiernan McCann hits the floor after Darren Hughes brushed his hair

Barry Lennon

With the Sam Maguire returning to the capital for another 12 months, we look back over the main talking points during the 2015 All-Ireland football championship season.

1) The Championship Structure

Various championship restructuring proposals have been rife right from the get-go this season ahead of a Central Council meeting on the subject in November. Facile Connacht and Leinster provincial finals and Dublin's crushing victories merely added fuel to a fire that won't go out.

Jim McGuinness and Peter Canavan led calls for a two tier system that would see the top 16 football teams compete for the Sam Maguire Cup, while the remaining counties would be lining out in a lower competition.

This could mean teams like Kildare and Westmeath would be lining out in an All-Ireland final – albeit in the lower championship.

Diarmuid Connolly after being sent off for striking Lee Keegan in last Sunday’s drawn semi-final
Diarmuid Connolly after being sent off for striking Lee Keegan in last Sunday’s drawn semi-final

Unless the issue is addressed this winter, expect more of the same for 2016.

2) Sledging

Sledging came to the fore in the Ulster minor championship when two Tyrone players targeted Donegal captain Michael Carroll, who lost his father Francie to cancer last year.

Donegal minor manager Declan Bonner described what they said to him as "some of the worst verbal abuse imaginable" and vowed to resign over the whole affair – the spotlight moved quickly to the attitude towards the bigger picture. The senior game between the same two sides did little to dispel the champion the cause that sledging is the exception rather than the rule.

Pundit Daithi Regan cast doubt over claims that such abuse didn’t extend to hurling, when he alleged Galway’s Joe Canning was sent off for sledging in a Dublin Championship game, but most players agree that it is a difficult aspect to eradicate from the game. 

3) Ruffle gate

Even the manliness of Gaelic Football players seemed under threat when Tyrone's Tiernan McCann threw himself to the ground after Monaghan forward Darren Hughes ruffled his hair in the All-Ireland quarter-final match.  

McCann received criticism from his fellow team mate Sean Cavanagh who admitted that "things like this shouldn’t happen".

Stephen Cluxton is the most influential player in the game today and other teams must find a way to cope with the Dublin goalkeeper
Stephen Cluxton is the most influential player in the game today and other teams must find a way to cope with the Dublin goalkeeper

McCann’s eight-week match ban was overturned by the Central Hearings Committee, but filled many column inches into the thorny topic of simulation.

4) Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs

The kick-outs of goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton became as much of a talking point as the performance of the rest of the Dublin team themselves.

The versatility and accuracy of his kicking have been lauded up and down the country and while his performances against Mayo and to a lesser extent against Kerry in the final - a couple of early kicks went uncharacteristically over the sideline - the Parnell's man is one of the most influential players in the history of the game.

Such is his standing in the game, the number one priority for opponents is developing a strategy to counter his huge influence on proceedings.

5) Red Card appeal

The GAA’s entire disciplinary procedure has come under increased scrutiny, not least during the appeal process for the All-Ireland semi-final between Dublin and Mayo.

Diarmuid Connolly, who had been sent off for striking Lee Keegan, had his match ban overturned in the small hours of the morning – just 12 hours before throw-in. 12 months previously, Keegan himself was let off the hook in the semi-final replay against Kerry after he too got his marching orders.

The Disputes Resolution Authority’s decision left many referees questioning what constitutes a red card, while the consequence would indicate that if a county board perseveres, they will eventually succeed. The Dublin forward had appealed the decision four times during the week before he was given the green light to take hi place for the replay. 

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