MICKEY HARTE has joined the debate over the Leinster football final debacle -- and heaped most of the blame on Meath for their failure to offer Louth a rematch.
While Harte acknowledges the obvious mistake of referee Martin Sludden in awarding Joe Sheridan's "totally illegal" match-winning goal, he reckons the Meath county board is even more culpable because their officers had time to form a considered opinion.
"Ultimately it's not about 50 years of waiting versus nine years, rather it's about doing the right thing. The right thing was a replay," the Tyrone boss declares.
His comments are sure to be noted by Eamonn O'Brien's Meath camp if they should run into Tyrone in the All-Ireland series. If Harte's men were to win Sunday's Ulster final against Monaghan, the two sides couldn't meet until a potential All-Ireland decider but a Tyrone defeat this weekend throws open the possibility of an earlier showdown with the Royals.
Writing in his weekly newspaper column, Harte says that talk of earlier wrong calls in the game -- or even an earlier replay offer by Laois to Carlow following a "wide ball point" 15 years ago -- should not be brought into the debate or seen as determining factors.
"This is a stand-alone issue, the wrong decision was made, the only people under rule who could rectify this wrong was the Meath county board," the three-time All-Ireland winning boss declares. "Ultimately their decision not to offer a replay is an error of even bigger proportions than the one which caused this furore in the first place.
"This was not a spur of the moment decision which had to be made in the heat of the battle. No, this was a conclusion reached after three days of discussion, recrimination, dialogue and media saturation, the outcome of which was a decision which will be forever frowned upon by the rest of the GAA world.
"There can be no doubt that Meath can write their name into the history books as the Leinster champions of 2010, but the accompanying negative history will be the lasting memory of this particular crown."
Harte goes on to suggest that Meath had been faced with a "win-win" opportunity. "Even if they lost that replay, they would be sporting champions, winners at a higher level than mere titles," he reasons. "Indeed the chances would have been stacked in their favour of becoming true champions, as it's normally the case than when favourites are held on their first day they prevail in the second encounter.
"Now, as has been alluded to in the public domain and throughout virtually all the media outlets, their title is, and forever will be, tarnished.
"For sure it's not the fault of the Meath players or the county board that this situation has arisen, but they equally must accept that their considered response is even more lamentable than the decision which first put them in this position."
Elsewhere, the Leinster Council has rejected claims that it failed to offer sufficient guidance to Meath and Louth in the aftermath of last Sunday's end-game farce.
Leinster chairman Sheamus Howlin has countered: "Neither the Leinster Council nor the GAA have any mechanism available to order a replay. The offer must come from the county."
Howlin cited previous examples where Sarsfields offered Na Fianna a rematch in 2001 and Laois did likewise to Carlow in 1995, adding: "If they hadn't done so, there is nothing we could have done (then)."