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Ref justice for the Dubs - some but not all of the time


'Eoghan O'Gara's red card was laughable.' Photo: Sportsfile

'Eoghan O'Gara's red card was laughable.' Photo: Sportsfile

'Eoghan O'Gara's red card was laughable.' Photo: Sportsfile

Jim Gavin got the performance he wanted on Saturday night but it was clear, from his press conference, that he wasn't happy with the imbalance of red cards brandished by Down referee Ciaran Branagan.

Gavin didn't spell it out quite so bluntly, but you got the sense that the Dublin camp believe they aren't getting a fair rap from officialdom this summer. It wouldn't be the first time that they've harboured such a grievance.

Have they a valid case?

Well, if you examine the key flashpoints arising from this predictably fractious All-Ireland quarter-final, they have a point. The red card count should have tallied one apiece, not two-nil to the Dubs.

All it required was one cursory review of the incident involving Eoghan O'Gara and Neil McGee to conclude that O'Gara's red card was laughable.


It's not Branagan's fault that his umpires stee red him in the direction of red for a supposed striking infraction. That said, if every gentle open-handed slap into an opponent's stomach was deemed worthy of the ultimate censure, we'd end up with Gaelic football's answer to 'Sevens Rugby' in no time at all.

The presumption here is that O'Gara will be cleared for the Kerry semi-final. Any other outcome would only fuel a "they're all out to get us" complex in the capital.

Likewise, Dublin are right to wonder why Michael Murphy wasn't sent off. In real time, from the Hogan Stand, it looked a simple mistimed high tackle with yellow sufficient punishment … but once you see the replay from a different angle, the closed-fist nature of that 'tackle' immediately elevates it into the realms of straight red, a point graphically illustrated by Brian Fenton's rapidly swelling jaw.

Diarmuid Connolly's red is a different story, though. For all Gavin's protestations that some of his players receive "special attention", it's difficult to sustain an argument that Ryan McHugh instigated the wrestling match that led to an early yellow for both players.

As The Sunday Game highlights show pinpointed, Donegal were attacking at the time. Moreover, while several of his team-mates may be perceived as specialists in the dark arts, McHugh is certainly not. In fact, he was probably the one Donegal player that Dublin feared most and we spotted at least one other occasion in that first half when his off-the-ball run was checked.

The point is, while the double-yellow punishment frequently comes across as the ultimate refereeing cop-out, Connolly deserved his first booking on Saturday and nor can he quibble about his second for a high tackle on Anthony Thompson.


On a general point, is Connolly targeted? For sure, because he is so talented and, partly also, because opponents know he can be riled if you press the right buttons.

Westmeath boss Tom Cribbin confirmed as much after the Leinster final - and yet it didn't require too much provocation from James Dolan, on that occasion, to incite an angry response that should have led to a black card, not yellow.

Truth is, Connolly is poked and prodded in the same way that Aidan O'Shea and Seán Cavanagh and several more marquee forwards are. Referees - and their army of officials - need to be alive to the provocation; but sadly they can't see everything and the star man sometimes just has to suck it up.