'It could have been stopped,' says McGeeney after bizarre mass brawl at O'Moore Park
GROTESQUE in the ugliness of the brawl that erupted out of nowhere; unprecedented in O'Byrne Cup history; bizarre in the flashing of seven red cards and six yellows; unbelievable that a match of little real significance should end as a day of shame for the GAA.
GUBU sums it all up, as Kildare and Laois players and management tried to come to terms with the strangest of days at O'Moore Park which, by the way, finished with Kildare's 12 men beating the home side's 11.
More than 2,500 fans attended the match on a chilly January day expecting to shake off the post-Christmas blues.
Instead, they found themselves witnessing a warm-blooded encounter that in truth, was no more than that, bar the two minutes of collective madness by the players in the first half. Back in 1986 I covered the infamous 'Battle of Aughrim' between Wicklow and Laois in the Leinster championship.
Now there was a game that was played in a sulphurous atmosphere from the start.
By the standards of that match, which ended with the referee requiring garda protection, this O'Byrne Cup was a gentle stroll in the park, yet it ended in a huge disciplinary toll for both teams.
Why? Well, referee Syl Doyle of Wexford will deliver his verdict in his match report to the Leinster Council, and no doubt delegates from Kildare and Laois will have their say.
The players must take the bulk of the blame for the mass brawl which suddenly blew up out of nothing just past the 30-minute mark, but the referee and his officials have to ask themselves some questions.
Why did none of his officiating team alert referee Doyle that a Laois man had dumped a Kildare player on the deck behind his back as he prepared to throw in a ball close to the Laois goal?
The referee seemed oblivious to the fact that something had clearly happened, despite the crowd raising the roof at the incident.
Instead, he took another couple of seconds to throw in the ball, and by then the passions had been stirred.
As the ball dropped, the tussle for possession developed into something far more sinister, as punches and kicks were traded and most players on the pitch raced to get into the fray.
The ruckus seemed to die down, then reared up again, and when it dissolved, the ref began picking his targets.
He selected three Laois players -- Kevin Meaney, Billy Sheehan and substitute Peter O'Leary -- and sent them off. Sheehan had earlier been booked, but it appeared that his dismissal was for his involvement in the brawl.
Then he flashed the red card at Kildare's John Doyle and Morgan O'Flaherty.
We then had the Dirty Dozen against the Tempestuous Thirteen for the rest of the half.
Further red cards were displayed when Laois debutant Denis Booth got his marching orders in the 58th minute for a clash with Kildare's Dermot Earley, and 10 minutes later the Lilywhites' Padraig O'Neill was sent to the line for a second yellow-card offence.
Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney and his Laois counterpart Sean Dempsey agreed that the underlying atmosphere between the sides at the start contained no sense of a grudge match.
McGeeney said: "I don't think there is any bitterness there.
"We're not allowed to comment on any decisions but you would have felt that if the incident just five seconds before the brawl had been taken care of, it would have been all wiped out.
"I don't think Laois went out looking for a fight. I don't think Kildare went looking for a fight but that incident should have been dealt with which ever way he saw fit.
"But to throw the ball up straight after two people were on the ground was a complete disaster and it went from there.
"In saying that, I understand the referees have got to do their business. There's no place for a brawl. None. It just shouldn't happen.
"There's nobody pretending to be angels here. I don't want a lack of discipline in any squad that I'm with and I feel these are a good bunch of lads. Their discipline for me has been A1, but to lose three players in a game that I wouldn't consider in any way tough or aggressive is disappointing.
"I'm disappointed and I'll apologise to any of the fans there, but I just think it could have been stopped," he added.
Dempsey added: "I've seen rows like that before. Unfortunately it happens and everyone jumps on the bandwagon tomorrow or the next day but people know these things happen.
"Outside that incident, I didn't think there was an overly vindictive streak to the game."
Let's not forget that the teams did manage to play some lively, positive and engaging football, albeit overshadowed by the couple of minutes of mayhem.
Laois only lost by three points which was remarkable considering their losses of manpower, and to their credit, they never stopped working hard and trying to play constructive football.
Kildare allowed their opponents to come a little too close for comfort on the scoreboard, but had they kept their discipline and not become embroiled in the big row they would surely have won more comfortably.
MJ Tierney did all the scoring for Laois, kicking seven points from frees and one from a '45.
Kildare spread the workload around with five players getting on the scoresheet.
Rob Kelly with four points, three from frees, and Doyle, with three points from frees before his dismissal, were the biggest contributors.
Laois swarmed forward and dominated the first 10 minutes but gradually Kildare, spurred on by Earley, the evergreen Anthony Rainbow, Doyle and David Whyte, hauled themselves back into the match.
By half time and despite the eruption of a few minutes earlier, Kildare led by 0-7 to 0-5.
They should have had a bigger lead, but credit the Laois men for their spirited defiance despite the handicap of seeing so many players given their marching orders.
Scorers -- Kildare: R Kelly 0-4 (3f), J Doyle 0-3 (3f), D Whyte 0-2, M O'Flaherty, D Earley 0-1 each. Laois: M J Tierney 0-8 (7f, 1 '45).
Kildare: S McCormack; A MacLochlainn, G White, E Bolton; A Rainbow, B Flanagan, M O'Flaherty; D Flynn, D Earley; R Kelly, J Doyle, D Whyte, K Cribbin, R Sweeney, R Walsh. Subs: P O'Neill for R Sweeney (49 mins); K Brennan for D Flynn (66 mins); D Lyons for A Rainbow (67 mins).
Laois: C Gorman; J Scully, D Booth, P McMahon; D Strong, C Ryan, N Donoher; B Quigley, C Og Greene; K Meaney, S Bergin, B Sheehan; MJ Tierney, D Lowry, C Coss. Subs: P O'Leary for D Lowry (22); C Begley for C Bergin (h.t); D Murphy for D Strong (54 mins); K Smith for C Coss (54 mins); D Miller for C Og Greene (64 mins).
Ref: S Doyle (Wexford).