Former Galway captain and All-Ireland winner Joe Bergin believes the solution the officials took in sending off both Armagh and Galway captains Aidan Nugent and Sean Kelly in response to the melee that took place last Sunday in Croke Park was ‘completely bonkers’.
The 2001 Young Player of the Year said that while he completely condemns the behaviour of both teams during the All-Ireland quarter-final and understands the difficult position that referee David Coldrick was in, he said he can’t understand the reasoning for sending off the team captains and that maybe the GAA should’ve been better prepared in handling a situation that was ‘waiting to blow up’.
Galway booked their place in the All-Ireland semi-final after beating the Orchard county on penalties, but after the game finished level at the end of normal time, a melee broke out between the two sides, after which Nugent and Kelly were picked out among the mass of bodies involved.
“When you look at what followed such a good game of football, it is really sad," Bergin said.
"It’s something nobody wants to see. But it was a fractious enough game with a lot of off-the-ball stuff, and with the physicality that was going on, you could tell that there was a fight waiting to blow up.
“The GAA have to understand that this was a real hostile match. Like the stadium was bouncing. And sometimes you have to have common sense and say, ‘these players could go off on each other any minute, let’s be prepared’.”
However, a greater issue that caught Bergin’s eye was the decision for referee David Coldrick to send off both Kelly and Nugent, feeling it was a far harsher punishment to Galway than Armagh considering the latter player shares the captaincy role with Rian O’Neill.
“I don’t agree with what David did in handling the melee at all. From what I heard I think the GAA said it’s because they played a part in the fight, but so did 30 to 40 other lads. Why not send them all off then?
“I know the referee felt he had to make a decision, but what made it completely bizarre and unfair is that Armagh have two captains in Nugent and O’Neill. I thought it made absolutely no sense and I just don’t agree with it. It was bonkers. That’s the only word to describe it."
The punishment for both teams have yet to be announced, with Galway set to appeal the sending off of Kelly. Bergin wishes that for the sake of the team, the rest of the players now keep the heads steady and not see the melee on Sunday as a distraction with an All-Ireland semi-final in two weeks time against a strong Derry opposition approaching.
“I know there’s heavy sanctions coming, and I agree with that, but that’s all well and good for Armagh who have no games left, but Galway have a semi-final coming up and this is the last thing Padraic Joyce needs to think about. There’s also a cloud over Kelly who is for the moment suspended for the next game, even though I’m confident he’ll get off. So, when you look at it, these are all little things that Pauric has to focus on, and they become distractions and talking points. It can take away from the most important thing – the football. I just hope the players keep their feet on the ground."
The last time Galway and Derry met in an All-Ireland semi-final was in 2001 where the Tribesmen escaped out of Croke Park with a three-point victory and ended up winning their last All-Ireland title. Bergin, who was a vital part of the forward line that year, highlights the difference in both teams going into this semi-final in two weeks time, to the one in ’01.
“It’s hard to believe that since 2001 Galway have only played in one All-Ireland semi-final which was in 2018 against Dublin. I feel that year it was more hope than expectation. Galway were in transition, and nobody expected them to really win that.
“But 2001 was a magical year. The semi-final against Derry was a real testing battle. We came out the victors, but Derry were the far better side. The difference back then was we had lads who were established winners, like Joyce, Donnellan and De Paor. This is a semi-final where you have two teams who are 70 minutes away from a place where none of them have been before and that is an All-Ireland final. It’s unfamiliar territory to them.
“They may go out with all the plans and tactics they want, but eventually that will go out the window and I think there will be real football played, because there is a final at stake and it will come down to who wants it more. You have lads like Walsh, Conroy and Comer who may never be here again and have been great servants to the Galway. I just hope they can get over the line.”