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Colm Keys: 'Rule changes will never kill cynical play, just look at the conclusion to Dublin v Kerry'

Colm Keys

GAA need to revisit punishments that lead to chaotic, disruptive conclusions to games


Dublin's Dean Rock is fouled by Kerry's Brian Ó Beaglaoich, left, and Shane Ryan, resulting in a penalty on Saturday night. Photo: Sportsfile

Dublin's Dean Rock is fouled by Kerry's Brian Ó Beaglaoich, left, and Shane Ryan, resulting in a penalty on Saturday night. Photo: Sportsfile


Dublin's Dean Rock is fouled by Kerry's Brian Ó Beaglaoich, left, and Shane Ryan, resulting in a penalty on Saturday night. Photo: Sportsfile

Peter Canavan's last act as an inter-county Gaelic footballer was to haul down Colm Cooper in the closing moments of the 2005 All-Ireland final as Tyrone were protecting a lead.

Canavan's yanking down of his heir apparent off the ball spurred brief outrage. How could such a gold-plated forward reduce himself to something like that on the greatest stage?

But after having so much punishment dished out his way in a long career, Canavan wasn't going to leave a second All-Ireland to chance.

Ten years later, in an interview with this newspaper, Canavan said any flack that came his way for that incident was justified.

"People were right to criticise me because it was cynical," he says. "But I was only doing what had been done to me so many times before. After playing teams like Meath and Dublin, I soon realised that if you stood back and let things happen, you would be walked over."

Nobody remembers that incident in any overall assessment of Canavan's career. And why should they, even as a final act?

Nor will too many recall the unsavoury side to Dublin as they closed out a couple of tight All-Ireland finals and a semi-final against Kerry.

The power of their football has always spoken for them, much louder than anything else. But the perception of football purists playing the game 'in the right way' is not always accurate.

In the closing stages of some of Dublin's biggest games, they have been at their cynical best. When it has come down to it, they too do what they have to do and no new rules have been able to guard against that.

The 2017 All-Ireland final is the prime example. Their work to delay David Clarke's last kick-out involved three Dublin players pinning down their direct opponents just after Cormac Costello had thrown away Clarke's kicking tee.

It required consultation between the officials, delay and exchanges of words. In short, it had a sufficiently chaotic effect. Whether it impacted on the subsequent Clarke kick-out over the sideline is impossible to determine. But it couldn't have helped.

A year earlier Cormac Costello pinned down Kerry defender Brian Ó Beaglaoich in the closing stages of the All-Ireland semi-final just as Kerry were seeking to counter, while the 2013 All-Ireland final saw Dublin take 'preventative' measures down the home straight with a number of deliberate fouls. Their manager, Jim Gavin, attributed the approach to 'frustration' with referee Joe McQuillan on the day.

Of course, Dublin can themselves point to Kerry cynicism in the closing stages of the 2017 league final when Anthony Maher pulled down Mick Fitzsimons about 50 metres out and from the resultant kick, Dean Rock struck an upright and Kerry hung on. Again it paid off for the aggressor.

Over the last two weekends in Croke Park, though, we have seen how cynical acts, fouling in the right part of the field, has not had the desired effect.

Corofin, rightly lauded for the majesty of their football over the last three years in winning every All-Ireland title, faced a different challenge to that experienced against Nemo Rangers and Dr Crokes in the previous two finals when a well organised Kilcoo defence, regularly featuring all 15 players, frustrated them.

Corofin's response was to match fire with fire and, when they had forged ahead, become just as cynical as any great team before them. Darragh Silke's take-down of Daryl Branagan was deliberate, deemed a black-card offence but with something presumably said in referee Conor Lane's direction the ball was moved up, affording Paul Devlin an easier opportunity to force extra-time.

Similarly on Saturday night last, a very tetchy second half between Dublin and Kerry was coming to a conclusion deep into injury time when Ciarán Kilkenny, tracking back in pursuit of Micheál Burns, took him by the shoulders with sufficient force to drag him down just shy of the 45-metre line.

Kilkenny's influence on the last quarter had been profound, proving once again that together with Brian Fenton they are very much the playmaking axis on which the All-Ireland champions thrive.

Kilkenny's tackle on Burns, which warranted yellow from referee Seán Hurson when it had strong grounds for black, appeared calculated. Like Corofin the week before, the foul was committed just outside the 45-metre line, a test for David Clifford under maximum pressure. Kilkenny may well have weighed that up.

Even as he was being shown yellow, Kilkenny's main focus was ensuring that the free was taken from exactly where the foul had been committed. But Hurson, who needed eyes in the back of his head by then, had moved it in closer after Niall Scully kicked the ball away, presenting Clifford with easier terms which he duly accepted.


Each time the value of a cynical foul was inadvertently lessened by a decision to move the ball forward on foot of something else.

In both cases you could say justice was done and it begs the question as to whether moving a ball forward for any cynical, or even any foul committed could act as an even greater preventative measure.

The closing stages of big games, exciting as they are, have become chaotic and ugly for the undercurrent that runs through them. It doesn't have to be Dublin and Kerry, it can be anyone, but on Saturday night Hurson managed to find an extra nine minutes to play, two less than the 11 minutes found at the end of a 30-minute second half the week before.

Their watches didn't fail them. Disruptive tactics are as prevalent as ever and it needs addressing again.

Irish Independent

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