Martin Breheny: Second act of final is worth celebrating not lamenting
Whingers and conspiracy theorists missing the whole point
Truly, there are times when it's impossible to satisfy people. You might have thought that after enjoying one of the best hurling championships ever, there would be a giddy sense of delight that the season decided to extend itself for a further three weeks by coaxing Clare and Cork into a draw last Sunday but, no, the carping began straight away.
Why did referee Brian Gavin play 30 seconds more than the two minutes of stoppage-time announced? Why is there no extra-time in All-Ireland finals? Doesn't everyone know that referees are encouraged to turn close games into draws to boost GAA coffers? Why isn't the replay on a Sunday? And when it's on a Saturday, why start at 5.0?
Some of Gavin decisions, especially in the first half, were questionable but he was well within his rights to play more than two minutes of stoppage-time. Thirty seconds elapsed from the moment Clare conceded a line ball before Stephen Moylan drove it wide. It would be most unfair if a quarter of the stoppage-time was taken up by a sideline cut awarded to the team clearly having a vested interest in wasting as many seconds as possible.
Besides, the stoppage-time announcement always specifies that it's the minimum, so a referee is entitled to extend it for any subsequent delay. Gavin did that and Clare equalised not through any borderline call on a free but off a remarkable point by roaming adventurer Domhnall O'Donovan.
Naturally, Cork supporters were disappointed, with some of them phoning radio shows to whinge and to unfairly accuse Gavin of engineering a draw. One suspects that had they been told in the 62nd minute, when Clare went four points clear, that the game would end level, they would have been delighted. Yet, 10 minutes later they were furious over the outcome because the referee did his job.
In fairness, supporters have no requirement to be rational but, by Monday, the debate on radio had moved on to why the GAA don't play extra-time in drawn All-Ireland finals. It was repeatedly claimed that supporters were facing unfair costs over the failure to complete all business last Sunday.
Of course, that applies only to those who attend twice. What about the unlucky ones who had no tickets for the first game? If a supporter finds the replay too expensive, then someone else who missed last Sunday will be happy to step in.
The Clare-Cork replay will be the 30th hurling championship game of the year, so it's not as if the calendar is jammed with small-ball action. Surely there's an unarguable logic about replaying an All-Ireland final in order to squeeze as much promotional juice as possible from the season?
As for amateur players, are they not entitled to do it all over again in a replay, rather than have their season defined by an extra 20 minutes at the end of an exhausting game?
The claim that referees are being told to make close games finish level for financial reasons, is an insult to all concerned. Human nature may well influence a referee towards giving a team a second chance but if it happens, it's done out of consideration for the players, not to boost coffers.
If referees were indeed tasked with nudging close finals towards draws, they have made a mess of it, especially in hurling, where there was no draw between 1959 and 2012. Drawn games are more likely in lower-scoring football matches, yet there have been no replayed finals since Galway v Kerry in 2000.
All-Ireland final replays are indeed a financial bonanza for the GAA but the proceeds won't be put into a dodgy property investment but rather back into games, coaching and facilities at all levels.
As for the hurling replay being on a Saturday, rather than a Sunday, due to Croke Park being booked for the ladies football finals on September 29, it's not ideal but arises from a commitment given by the GAA last year that they would not fix a hurling final replay for a date allocated to the ladies' finals.
Since last year brought the first hurling final replay for 53 years it was probably assumed that the clash with the ladies would not arise for a long time again but the law of averages took a surprise turn by delivering replays in successive years.
The 5.0 throw-in on Saturday fortnight is based on Garda advice. Again, not ideal timing but the GAA has to go along with it.
The level of whinging across various sectors since Sunday has been thoroughly depressing. Clare and Cork further illuminated an incredible hurling season, so can we not just be happy that we're going to get another day out?