Friday 23 February 2018

The battles and the bookings

THE cast of on-pitch characters central to the drama that unfolded over a five-week period and which was the talk of the country ended up as: Meath, 23 players; Dublin, 25 players; plus the match officials.

Tommy Howard's team to control all the raw testosterone and high-octane emotional intensity generated by the 48 players over 340 minutes of football was: himself, four umpires, and two linesmen.

Between them, the Meath and Dublin players committed 257 fouls (128 for Meath, 129 for Dublin), a rate not far from one per minute -- and those were the incidents caught by the ref and his team.

Howard booked 23 players (14 Meath, 9 Dublin) and sent off one (Mick Lyons, in the second match).

He awarded two penalties: one in the first match to Meath, which Brian Stafford scored, and one in the last game which Keith Barr missed.

Only one man was sent off -- that was some feat, given that players clattered each other unmercifully on occasion.

And even then, Lyons only got two weeks' suspension for his dismissal, which enabled him to play in the third game a fortnight after the second one.

Howard had no say in the punishment of Lyons, applied by Leinster Council, but he freely admits he was reluctant to send players off if he could avoid it.

"I always hated putting off a player unless the foul was really dangerous and deliberate. If you could manage to calm them down or say something to them that would just keep them on their toes, then I'd do that," he said.

"Of course, I could have sent off loads in every one of the matches. I think the players appreciated me for that, well maybe 90pc of them anyway, that I was sort of with them in doing my best to keep the game going.

"There were several points in it, in all the games, in hindsight, and even the lads (umpires and linesmen) would say when we watched it on TV, 'Tommy, you know, maybe we should have sent off such a body for that,' but you were always going to get them in any match.

"Looking back, I think the worst match I had was the first match. I remember saying to the lads, 'I wasn't great there' and half wondering would I be going to do the replay.

"But there was no objections to me from the Meath or Dublin County Boards at any time, and I just got on with it."

Irish Independent

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