Saturday 24 February 2018

'Lee Keegan is conceding his footballing ability by pulling out of Connolly' - Former Dublin star calls for fair play

Ref needs help to combat 'cynical off-the-ball stuff', says ex-Dubs star

Diarmuid Connolly tussles with Lee Keegan Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Diarmuid Connolly tussles with Lee Keegan Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Former Dublin hero Paul Clarke has called on Maurice Deegan's officials to offer the Laois referee more support in Saturday's All-Ireland final in an attempt to curb what he branded as "cynical stuff" from the drawn decider.

Clarke believes that a lot of "off-the-ball" incidents marred the first game and insists referees must crack down on that behaviour as they "have a duty to protect the players and the game itself".

"I watched the game from Hill 16 and I saw a lot of off-the-ball stuff going on, cynical stuff," said 1995 All-Ireland winner Clarke.

"There was just a lot of negativity in the game. I thought the referee actually had a good game in the circumstances but the linesmen and umpires didn't seem to see much, and referees need a hand on All-Ireland final day with everything that is going on.

"You don't want fellas talking after the game about some decision that was made or missed or something that happened off the ball. You want them talking about football and the game itself.

"Hopefully the referee just lets if flow and we see a good game of football. The referee is there to protect the players but the game as well."

Clarke went on to insist that Lee Keegan is "conceding his football ability" in his ongoing duel with Dublin's Diarmuid Connolly.

"I hate that battle," he said. "I don't see footballer versus footballer there. I actually think Lee is conceding his footballing ability by pulling and dragging rather than pitching himself against him as a footballer.

"With the two of them it just seems to descend into a wrestling match all the time."

When it was put to Clarke that Keegan had done well to force one of the game's most celebrated forwards to the margins of the game, he argued that Keegan could offer more to Mayo than limiting the influence of the St Vincent's man.

"I don't know if it is coming from management or not but I'd be telling Lee Keegan to go and impose himself on the game. He's very good going forward, a great footballer and I just think he can give Mayo more than he is at the minute," he said.

"I suppose I'm old school in that I like to see one-on-one battles, 15 versus 15 and you're in direct opposition with your man. I played in All-Ireland finals as a defender and a forward, and you're looking to keep your man as quiet as possible.

"And if someone gets on top of you, the challenge is to break that by playing football and forcing him on the back foot. That's what I like to see."

Clarke feels that his former team-mate Jim Gavin has a number of big calls to make with regards to team selection. Established stars such as Paul Flynn and Bernard Brogan have come under the microscope but whatever decision Gavin makes, Clarke expects Dublin to be better on Saturday night.

"As a player and a manager I have been in those situations and they can be difficult," he said.

"I'd imagine the lads who didn't play to their potential will be annoyed with themselves but I think there'll be calm heads in the Dublin camp.

"The players will be treated with the utmost respect and there'll be no hasty decisions made. They'll sit down and try and see where it went wrong. Is there something that can be improved upon in their preparation?

"They'll try find out why they weren't on top of their game, and they'll know they can do better."

Clarke is expecting another tight encounter but reckons Dublin have significant room for improvement.

"James McCarthy had a shoulder injury and another two weeks will bring him on. The defence played well the last day but up front they'll have to find a little bit more," he said.

"And I think they can. Bernard Brogan, Paul Flynn, Kevin McManamon they can all bring bit more to the next day. Paddy Andrews did well when he came in, so there's room for improvement there and I think they'll be a lot better.

"I think Dublin will know what they are facing now. I think they know what Mayo will bring and I think they'll react a lot better to it this time around."

Irish Independent

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