Thursday 14 December 2017

'Are referees influenced by a narrative?' - Jim Gavin says ‘balance needed’ when refs comment publicly

The National League final between Kerry and Dublin was referee Paddy Neilan’s first top-flight match this year. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
The National League final between Kerry and Dublin was referee Paddy Neilan’s first top-flight match this year. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Go to enough Jim Gavin media events and you'll quickly realise his policy at such things is that less is definitely more.

The Dublin manager prefers the broadest of brush strokes when talking about his side. He'll rarely get into it about things like the state of the championship or what he really thinks about whatever the issue of the day might be.

He's not alone among inter-county managers in that regard but, generally, Gavin pursues a policy of polite detachment when it comes to interviews. Arm's length will do, thank you very much.

In that context, any move away from 'the norm' demands further probing. So when he questioned Croke Park's call to give Roscommon referee Paddy Neilan - who hadn't taken charge of a top-flight match all spring - last month's league final, it's clear he has an itch he needs to scratch.


And at the launch of the Leinster Championships in Rathfarnham yesterday, Gavin stated his belief that comments in the 'broader media' have influenced referees that have taken charge of Dublin games.

Jim Gavin, pictured yesterday at the Leinster GAA Championships launch outside the Pearse Museum in Rathfarnham, will continue as Dublin manager until 2019. Photo: SAM BARNES/SPORTSFILE
Jim Gavin, pictured yesterday at the Leinster GAA Championships launch outside the Pearse Museum in Rathfarnham, will continue as Dublin manager until 2019. Photo: SAM BARNES/SPORTSFILE

"I still think the referees have been influenced by that narrative, that we are a cynical team," he said. "We got a black card up in Monaghan that clearly wasn't, and the referee was very close to him to see it, and there was no grey area about it.

"So when you see that narrative going about us, going about the football team, are referees being influenced by that narrative? I would hope not. I would hope not."

Gavin isn't the first GAA manager to complain about how his side are perceived. Mayo had a similar gripe in the build-up to last year's All-Ireland final replay, while Kerry's Eamonn Fitzmaurice came out swinging ahead of the league final, where he pointed to examples of what he saw as Dublin cynicism.

Gavin insisted his comments weren't aimed at the Kingdom boss. Instead, his issue was with referees who have spoken publicly about decisions they made while in charge of Dublin games.

Meath official David Gough admitted recently that he should have given Kerry's Peter Crowley a free in the build-up to Diarmuid Connolly's insurance point in last year's All-Ireland semi-final.

That followed on from Maurice Deegan's admission earlier this year that he missed a black card on John Small early in last year's All-Ireland final replay.

"When you see referees who have refereed our previous games being asked to justify decisions that they gave or didn't give against Dublin, well that's fine, I've no problem with that, but it needs to be balanced," Gavin said.

"It needs to be opened up to say, 'Well, what happened with the other team', as well. It can't be just one focus on one particular team, and that's where the narrative is coming from.

"Referees are simply answering (questions) and I've no problem with them with them talking.

"It's good and it's healthy that referees articulate their views because now we can learn from it and understand what's actually happening and their decision-making process, I think it's a very positive step.

"But when there's a focus on one particular team, that's not healthy for the sport, and I think it's having an impact on - or could have an impact or an influence on - how referees make decisions against our players."

Gavin admits his side are 'physical' but believes his side have been painted as cynical by those interviews.

"What I was surprised about was the narrative that was growing in the background that this Dublin team was a cynical team.

"I think we're a very physical team, we play a physical contact sport and we need to keep that part of our game, that's what makes it one of the best field sports in the world, is the ability of players to tackle aggressively each other.

"But I think the facts demonstrate that we're not, in terms of the yellow and black cards, a cynical team and that we try to play the right way. I think we've seen that in the past for Lee Keegan's fantastic goal in the All-Ireland final last year, if we were a cynical team he wouldn't have got through. But he did, so they're just the facts."

Sin bin

Gavin would like to see players who pick up a black card sent to a sin bin instead of being replaced.

"I still think that (the black card is) not punitive enough. To be able to replace the player was a cop-out, bringing the sin-bin in, it works.

"If it can work in underage rugby, it can certainly work in inter-county football. There's no excuse for that, that we didn't bring it in and I think it's too easy that teams can particularly make professional type fouls, and that's why really it was brought in."

There's a round of hurling championship to complete and a full round of football action to over the next couple of weekends before Gavin's squad will reassemble and start preparations for championship.

Read more: Jim Gavin agrees two year extension to remain in charge of Dublin until end of 2019 championship

However, Dublin expect the likes of Jonny Cooper, Cormac Costello and Michael Darragh Macauley to be fit for their opener against either Carlow or Wexford on June 3-4.

And despite a first defeat in more than two years in that league final, Gavin insists their preparation won't change.

"I'm involved in the aviation industry and the reason commercial air transport is so safe is that it has learned from its past failures and accidents so there is that continuous growth mindset within the industry. It's the same with football from U-21s to seniors whether we draw, lose or win a game, that methodology of reflecting on games remains the same.

"Simply, Kerry performed on the day and we didn't perform to the standards that we'd set ourselves and because of that we lost the game. The reality is that over the past number of years I've always said that there's just a bounce of the ball between the teams; we saw that in the National Football League final this year and the All-Ireland series last year and in previous years.

"That's the reality and that was borne out a few weeks back."

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