All's well that ends in a drawn game
Poor Diarmuid Kirwan. Poor, poor Diarmuid Kirwan. Waterford fans obviously won't have much sympathy for the Cork referee but you could see where he was coming from when he denied the Decies a free and awarded Clare a dubious one as time was running out in the hurling league final replay.
Kirwan was, no doubt subconsciously, following a great GAA refereeing tradition, that of 'making a draw out of it'. The problem was that after Clare had availed of his call by drawing level when Tony Kelly pointed the free, there was still enough time left for the Ballyea man to slot a winning score which brought Waterford's wrath down on the ref. Had the dodgy decisions merely brought the game into extra time, no-one would have passed a bit of heed.
Something very similar happened the night before at a club game I went to. In this case Castlehaven were a point up against Clonakilty in their Cork senior football championship match as the game entered injury-time. Haven were in possession and, spookily enough, the apparent foul on the player and the part of the pitch where it took place were almost identical to the situation in Thurles the following day.
Again there was no whistle, the free went to Clon and they had a chance to draw the game though, in this case, they narrowly missed doing so. Yet had their final attack ended up with the ball going in the net rather than dropping short, Haven would have fumed in much the same way that Waterford did less than 24 hours later.
Saturday night's ref, Kevin Murphy of Nemo Rangers, had an excellent game and, as was probably the case with Diarmuid Kirwan, I'm sure he didn't even know that he was doing what he was doing. It's almost as if there is an urge to promote parity, which perhaps runs so deep in the GAA, that it is a primal one, hidden in the dark recesses of the psyche. Yet we all know it's there.
I remember a referee whose fondness for awarding frees to a side who were a point down with time running out earned him the nickname of 'The Equalizer.' Every county has one and most have more than one.
The cynics among us tend to ascribe the phenomenon of the draw-friendly ref to financial considerations, hence the pithy phrase 'more money for the GAA' usually heard as the last-second leveller flies over the bar. But the fact that the refs seem just as keen to even things up when there's extra-time to be played to my mind disproves this.
Instead I suspect it's bound up with the egalitarian streak in the Association. How often do you hear a pundit saying as a close game nears the end that no-one deserves to lose this and wouldn't it be nice if the players got another crack at it? How often have you said it yourself? I was kind of hoping for extra-time in the Clare-Waterford match myself. You don't hear these sentiments expressed anything like as often in other sports. And it's not the worst impulse in the world is it, this hope that defeat will be put off to another day?
So you get occasions like the dubious late frees which, on more than one occasion in the last decade, helped Kerry maintain their unbeaten record against Cork in Killarney, the very dodgy one which gave Meath a draw in the 1988 All-Ireland final against the Rebels and the moment in the 2000 All-Ireland final when Pat McEnaney disregarded an amount of additional time to be played and instead blew up, resulting in a draw between Kerry and Galway. The decision was the subject of much controversy but several former greats went on record to say that they approved of it because a draw was a fair result and it'd be nice to see the teams playing again. It's part of what we are.
Of course it's a bit of a bummer for the team which is battling to hold on to a single-point lead, and even more so when the decision misfires to the extent it did last Sunday. But these things tend to balance themselves out in time.
On Monday morning John Mullane was calling for Diarmuid Kirwan to hang up his whistle. But the same John, and Dan Shanahan come to think of it, played for Waterford in the 2010 Munster final when, with Cork three points up and time running out, the Decies got a questionable close-range free which led to a goal and a replay which they won. Three years earlier in the All-Ireland quarter-final between the two teams, the Rebels were a point up on the stroke of full-time when an extremely strange free was given against the Cork keeper. Waterford pointed that and won the replay.
That Cork keeper? Donal óg Cusack, who was on the Clare bench as the Banner became the latest team to benefit from a referee's urge to give a losing team one last chance.
Everything evens up in the end.
Sunday Indo Sport