Sunday 22 September 2019

Ref watch: 'Second-half penalty claim and the Tom O'Sullivan yellow card that wasn't raises issues'

Stephen O'Brien of Kerry protests to umpires
Stephen O'Brien of Kerry protests to umpires
Blue sees red: Referee David Gough gives Jonny Cooper his marching orders. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

So Shane Ryan didn't need the two or three pairs of boots that his manager Peter Keane had suggested he'd have to procure from Gerard Murphy's sports shop in Castleisland just to keep the ball kicked out to Dublin.

Keane had made the suggestion in the aftermath of Kerry's semi-final win over Tyrone, a colourful measurement of what they were facing against a Dublin team that had dismantled Mayo with 2-6 in 12 exhilarating minutes the previous evening.

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They were, of course, words coated in mischief. Keane sometimes dabbles in such roguery that his media audiences might be inclined to check to see if there's a Blarney Stone around to be kissed.

But behind that veneer there is, of course, a very serious-minded manager who has now gone 25 championship games in charge of a Kerry minor or senior team without suffering a defeat.

When the dust settles, Kerry can reflect on a decent job from their management from the faith in Jack Barry as Brian Fenton's shadow, the chain of substitutes in the second half, each one making a telling impact and the match ups of their defenders that saw Paul Mannion's influence curtailed by Tadhg Morley and Ciaran Kilkenny being less influential in Gavin Crowley's company.

Their best-laid plans to curtail Jack McCaffrey came apart at the seams however, Gavin White, with Adrian Spillane as his pillion passenger unable to stem a tide that reached a high point in the second half when McCaffrey landed three points to add to his sensational first half goal.

For a half-back to land 1-3 in such testing conditions represents one of the greatest All-Ireland final performances of the last two decades.

And it will provide the greatest focus for Kerry as they go back and digest just how close they were to securing what would undoubtedly have been the county's most coveted All-Ireland title.

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But when they renew engagement with Dublin in 12 days time, the numerical disadvantage that clearly impacted on the champions for almost 44 minutes, a few seconds at the end of the first half and over eight minutes of added time at the end of second half, will be lost.

In that respect, Jonny Cooper's dismissal for two yellow cards was one of the pivotal moments.

In a match of such magnitude referee David Gough knew he could never enjoy anonymity. And especially when he had been the focus of such attention in the build up.

Gough's choice as referee in this All-Ireland final was, of course, well received in Kerry for all the best diplomatic reasons. The problem with it arose before the appointment was publicly announced when the storm erupted with former manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice suggesting it wasn't fair an official, resident and working in Dublin, despite being a native of Meath and attached to a club there, should be appointed.

Fitzmaurice's comments were picked up on by others but by then the GAA had already decided the Meath man had done enough to merit selection.

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Whatever concerns Kerry may have had about Gough, who had been at the centre of a number of controversial incidents when they last met in the championship, the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final, were tested to their limits in the 13th minute when Jonny Cooper and David Clifford stood beneath Paul Geaney's arcing delivery into the Dublin goalmouth.

As the ball dropped Cooper pulled Clifford momentarily, dislodging him from the position he had taken sufficiently for Gough to call a penalty.

In real time, it looked the right call and Gough will have the rulebook to back him up which is all the backing any referee needs in these situations anyway.

The decision seemed to unnerve Cooper and two fouls later on Clifford, neither of which the Dublin defender could argue with, and he was being shown the line, no sympathy or sentiment from his fellow DCU work colleague. If Kerry wanted impartiality, then that surely passed every test.

Cooper might well have been followed to the line by John Small on a black card when he checked Stephen O'Brien in the 29th minute but yellow was shown instead.

Asked for his reaction to the Cooper penalty and subsequent dismissal Jim Gavin took a diplomatic line but did acknowledge that there had been pressure from the outside.

"We need time (to assess), it's hard to know, both players were grappling. In the second half we could have gotten one or two calls which could have gone our way, they didn't, so you just dust yourself down and go again. I thought he was doing okay (Cooper). David Clifford is a fantastic player."

If there was impartiality however from Gough, and any suggestion he could be anything else in the first place was absurd, there wasn't always consistency.

On a yellow card for a 48th minute foul on Paul Mannion, Tom O'Sullivan then took down John Small three minutes later and by the look on his face the Kerry defender sensed another yellow and subsequent red card coming. And that's what the outcome surely should have been. But Gough kept the cards in his pocket this time and Kerry were able to finish the game out with a full complement.

That certainty he brought to his decision-making in the first half was not as evident after the break. Nine minutes in Stephen O'Brien went on one of those weaving runs that the Dublin defence had trouble dealing with all afternoon and had McCaffrey in pursuit. There looked to be a foul just outside the area and another as O'Brien got inside but this time he didn't call it.

As the match wore he became more tolerant of aggressive contact than he had been in the opening exchanges with Kerry making the stronger claims.

But like players, referees too can feel the enormity of an occasion and as the clock ticked to history every heartbeat in the stadium ticked faster with it.

For Dublin the dissection of this performance will have lasted long into the night, just as it did three years ago when they retired to DCU for a full breakdown.

Like Brian Cody's Kilkenny, Dublin have thrived on the two replays they have had against Mayo in Gavin's reign. But Kerry know now how hard they can compete.

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