Counting the cost
Leinster Council's disciplinary chiefs will meet tomorrow night to consider the report of Wexford referee Syl Doyle following ugly scenes between Laois and Kildare players at Portlaoise on Sunday.
Laois had four players dismissed and Kildare had three in an O'Byrne Cup tie which erupted into a mass melee after 30 minutes. Three Laois and two Kildare players were sent off after the brawl, while one from each side got their marching orders in the second half.
The Laois players sent off were Kevin Meaney, Billy Sheehan and Peter O'Leary for the brawl, and Denis Booth for a clash with Kildare's Dermot Earley in the 58th minute.
Kildare's Morgan O'Flaherty and Johnny Doyle were both red-carded for the melee incidents, while Padraig O'Neill got his marching orders for a second bookable offence after 68 minutes.
Doyle will have his report on the match submitted to the Leinster Council in time for tomorrow night's meeting. Leinster's Competitions Control Committee (CCC) will decide on sanctions and inform the counties of their findings on Thursday.
After that, Kildare and Laois have three days in which to decide if they want a hearing on the disciplinary outcome. Should they take that option, Leinster secretary Michael Delaney expects the hearings could take place in time for decisions to be made in advance of the start of the National League on Sunday week.
As it stands, the players who received straight red cards are automatically banned for a month, but their terms of suspension could increase depending on the referee's report.
The respective county boards will await their fate with some trepidation, as the last big melee involving Dublin and Meath at Parnell Park in the 2008 NFL proved costly in terms of manpower and money.
Referee Paddy Russell sent off five in that game, but the GAA subsequently awarded suspensions to 16 players, and the Meath and Dublin County Boards were each fined €20,000. Sunday's game was not televised but if it had been it's likely more players would come under the spotlight for their part in the row.
Laois had begun brightly for the first 10 minutes and then Kildare hauled themselves back into the game. Physically, there had been little enough bar some shape-throwing up to then, although Billy Sheehan of Laois got a yellow card after 16 minutes for a foul on Keith Cribbin.
Kildare were leading 0-7 to 0-3 when the moment that changed the game arrived. The action was in front of the Laois goal and some untidy play developed. The referee decided a throw-in was warranted.
Behind his back, an off-the-ball incident occurred which left Kildare's Ronan Sweeney down on the ground.
The referee didn't see it and threw the ball in. As the players contested it, the Sweeney incident appeared to incite some passion on both sides and what began as a contest for the ball developed into a punching and kicking melee.
As the fighting and shoving developed, it was harder to see who wasn't involved rather than who was.
Doyle took stern action, sending five off. He could easily have added another two or three.
Managers Kieran McGeeney of Kildare and Sean Dempsey of Laois hadn't seen that flare-up coming.
Neither of them felt there was a sense of malice in the game up to that point. Some of the play was hard and there was some minor pushing and shoving but, up to the row, it was a case of earnest, early-season endeavour by two teams seeking match fitness.
"There's things to look at from the game and things to learn from, but it's hard to put your finger on what happened out there," McGeeney said. "I know from the three men that went off on our side, I can't speak for the Laois men, but Morgan O'Flaherty, I'd be shocked if he lifted his hands in that row.
"I'm not saying no Kildare man did, but I would be shocked if he (O'Flaherty) did. His only words coming off the pitch were he never lifted his hands.
"Johnny Doyle's reputation speaks for itself. I don't think he's ever been sent off. Paudie O'Neill I think is in the same boat as well. But Sean (Dempsey) could say the same about his men.
"I understand the referees have got to do their business. There's no place for a brawl. None. No matter what excuses I give, no matter what excuse Sean gives, there's no excuse for that. It just shouldn't happen. But I think it could have been easily, easily stopped."
Dempsey even managed a touch of wry humour as he reflected on the game, saying: "I thought the Laois soccer team did well there," in reference to his side finishing with 11 men.
And he later added: "If nothing else it will bring a large crowd here for the league match."
Laois will play Kildare in the final round of Division 2 of the National League on March 27.
But on a more serious note, Dempsey said: "Outside that incident, I didn't think there was an overly vindictive streak to the game or anything like that.
"I thought the players were going at it hammer and tongs but even the first ball after the throw-in, Brendan Quigley dived in and got a bang to the head and one of the Kildare fellas helped him up off the ground.
"There'd be a healthy respect among them. Some of those lads were playing colleges together and played against one another at underage. Sometimes these things flare up and if they happen, they happen."