Saturday 21 April 2018

Colm O'Rourke: House of cards will have to fall soon

‘Every tackle in the game between Dublin and Donegal seemed to risk a yellow card and the after-match discussion focused on Michael Murphy and James McCarthy’ Photo: Dáire Brennan / SPORTSFILE
‘Every tackle in the game between Dublin and Donegal seemed to risk a yellow card and the after-match discussion focused on Michael Murphy and James McCarthy’ Photo: Dáire Brennan / SPORTSFILE
Former full-back Paddy O'Brien. Photo: John Quirke /
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

I hoped when I commented a few weeks back about the number of cards being shown by some referees that the situation might improve. The wave of yellow and black cards in particular is destroying the game. Sadly, it has not got any better in the meantime.

Of course, some cards are justified, that goes without saying, but we have reached the point now where the watching public have been conditioned into believing that these cards are a necessary form of crowd control. Worse still is the effect down the line with players now calling for yellow and black cards for opponents at all ages and levels of the game.

So what makes a good referee? Can he be judged on the number of cards he shows? Take last weekend for example. On Sunday in Roscommon, Mayo's Alan Freeman was shown a black card after a Roscommon player tripped across his arm when Freeman was on the ground. This is not what the black card was intended for.

On the previous night in Croke Park we had another example of sanitised football. Every tackle in the game between Dublin and Donegal seemed to run the risk of a yellow card and the after-match discussion focused on Michael Murphy and James McCarthy. Let's take Murphy first. Not only should he not have received a red card, but he should not have been shown the first yellow card either.

A Dublin player in possession lost his footing and slammed into him. It wasn't even a free, let alone a card. The second time, he went for a ball on the ground but pulled back at the last second as Ciarán Kilkenny picked it up and did not even seem to be touched. James McCarthy over-reacted, though, and Murphy got a second yellow and a red. McCarthy got involved and also received a second yellow. He should not have had a first yellow either but could hardly have had much grounds for complaint if he had seen a straight red for the Murphy incident.

McCarthy was treading a dangerous line by putting a hand into a Donegal player's face. Things look much worse in slow motion but in real time the hand in the face was minor enough, but still a red card offence by the letter of the law. McCarthy, the best player in the country at present, needs to behave more calmly.

It seems that incidents involving Michael Murphy lead to a greater reaction than with most other players. Kieran Donaghy provokes the same sort of response from Kerry's opponents but a good referee ignores the crowd and the players and gets on with the game.

The perfect example of that was on Sunday in the game between Kerry and Monaghan. Donaghy was his usual physical self and made a few awkward lunges at some Monaghan players. All of them were entirely harmless but the crowd like to have someone to get at and Donaghy, the panto villain, fits the bill perfectly. As I have pointed out in the past, he should have gone with an early black card in the game against Donegal, but he and Murphy deserve to be refereed on the basis of the rules and not the preconceived ideas of opposition players and supporters. Referee David Coldrick just let the game flow without constant interruptions with cards.

If the referees for the two games, Dublin v Donegal (Conor Lane) and Monaghan v Kerry (David Coldrick) were switched, I reckon there probably would have been nobody sent off in Croke Park and a few would have walked in Clones. Neither were dirty games by any stretch. Referees need to be told by the much-feared assessors to keep the cards in their pockets unless absolutely necessary. This applies in particular to Conor Lane. He is undoubtedly a referee with potential but is obsessed with cards. Some day he should leave them in the dressing room and see if he can get by without utter mayhem breaking out. Somehow I think the game would go by quite well.

All of which brings us via a circuitous route to today's final round of Allianz League games. New teams are attracting big crowds and even if Roscommon slipped up last Sunday there is another banker for the taverns, chippers and filling stations with Dublin coming to town - providing Hyde Park holds up.

Last week it looked a bit dodgy and there is a need for the opposite of a rain dance to take place. We could do with a month of dry warm weather and it is unfortunate that Roscommon have suffered worst when they have two of their biggest games in years.

Mayo's physical power shone through last week and with Cillian O'Connor returning they are still a top three or four team. Rumours of their demise are clearly exaggerated, even if a win today might not save them from the drop. Yet anyone who beats them in Connacht can look forward to a long and hopefully hot summer. The same applies to Kerry, who are a bit ahead of their usual position at this time of year. They have used a lot of players so far but may not have found a starter. Kieran Donaghy is full of enthusiasm and Paul Murphy adds a bit to the forwards. They have plenty of the moving parts in place and can look forward to at least one more game in the league.

The real dogfights are as much to avoid relegation as getting to the play-offs and Monaghan need to beat Donegal to keep their heads above water. Donegal won't do them any favours after a couple of bruising Ulster finals where the phrase 'no love lost' would be the understatement of the year. Donegal would be quite happy to see Monaghan go down and give them a serious knock before the championship. There will be a few cards in this game and there may even be genuine reasons for them.

In Division 2, the game of the day is in Cavan with a winner-takes-all contest between the home team and Galway. If the weather is half decent this will bring out a big crowd as Cavan are starting to dream again. For the last few years Cavan could not score enough, now they are running up big totals, Seánie Johnston is almost completely rehabilitated and having seen most of the teams live in that division, I think Cavan are in the top two. Galway find themselves in a similar position to last year and could fall short again.

Division 4 games do not get much publicity but unbeaten Antrim are promoted. They play Louth today and they are going up too. In three weeks they must meet again in Croke Park to decide on the winners of the division. Maybe there will be a bit of shadow boxing today but winning is a good habit and Antrim will push hard to maintain their record. If there's a few quid knocking around it could be spent on worse things than employing 20 or so full-time coaches in Belfast. Antrim football should be the big project of the future.

Sadly passed: Paddy O'Brien

Another soldier has gone over the hill. Last week it was Brian Smyth, who captained Meath to their first All-Ireland win in 1949. Today it is Paddy O'Brien, or Paddy Hands as he was affectionately known because of his wonderful skill in catching high balls as a traditional full-back.

Paddy was buried last week and was a legendary figure in Skryne and Meath football. A club-mate of Brian Smyth and his cousin Michael - who guarded Paddy from corner-back - he was the prince of full-backs.

He won All-Irelands in 1949 and 1954 and everything else with club and county and created a special aura about the full-back position in Meath football. After him came Jack Quinn, Mick Lyons and Darren Fay, each with special qualities in that number three jersey.

In the end Paddy's prowess in the air changed the game. Dublin decided that Kevin Heffernan in 1955 would roam out the field as there was no point in engaging in man-to-man combat with Hands. The game has been evolving or degenerating ever since, depending on your viewpoint.

As you get older you appreciate more the contribution that men like Paddy O'Brien made to football and life in general. They set standards for others to follow.

Now from the starting team of the '49rs there is only Frankie Byrne left. I am reminded of the words from the Australian song, Waltzing Matilda, which tells of the soldiers who have come back from Suvla Bay in the first World War. Every year there was a march for the veterans but after many years and parades the song goes, "Year after year, their numbers get fewer, someday, no one will march there at all". It is like that with all the old teams but Paddy Hands and his friends will always live on when young men put on green and gold jerseys.

Perhaps today it might inspire Meath to put on a great performance against Laois in Portlaoise. It would be a suitable send-off for Paddy O'Brien.

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