EVEN after a game which ended with both managers united in their assessment that the best team won, we still had two big moments of refereeing controversy during yesterday’s Leinster SFC opener between Longford and Offaly. And still there wasn’t a black card in sight.
The first big call came on 23 minutes when Paul Barden goaled’ on the rebound for Longford after his first effort was saved by Alan Mulhall. Fermanagh referee Martin Higgins initially seemed content to award the score, only for a consultation with his umpires to prompt a free-out - on the basis that Barden had illegally kicked the ball out of Mulhall’s hands.
Adding to the confusion, the relevant umpire didn’t cross his flags and this was reflected on the scoreboard for a brief period. Then to compound Longford’s ire, Barden skewed a second glorious goal chance wide soon after.
All’s well that ends well, however, and winning boss Jack Sheedy later reflected: I felt that it came off his (Mulhall’s) hands when he went down and I thought Paul just pulled it past him. Some people that were standing up there felt similar - but I don’t know, I’d have to see it on TV.
“Alan Mulhall didn’t contest the goal,” Sheedy went on, “there was no issue that it was kicked out of his hand. That’s the way it went. I would be more concerned with the next one we didn’t get. We had a good opportunity one on one and you need to be putting those away, like we did in the second half.”
The second contentious decision came after 67 minutes when Offaly full-back David Hanlon was belatedly red-carded for a flashpoint which left Brian Kavanagh on the turf.
Higgins clearly didn’t have a clear view, as play proceeded. He then took advice from his umpires and one of his linesmen before brandishing a yellow card; but then the linesman on the near side (closer to the incident) intervened and the referee showed red instead.
TV replays apparently showed it was the correct call - but whether a referee can change his original decision may well be open to question.
Offaly manager Emmet McDonnell didn’t make much of the red card afterwards, other than to say: “I’m not quite sure what happened there. There was a foul and it was a yellow card and, all of a sudden, it became a straight red card. I didn’t actually see what happened in front if the goals.”