| 4.3°C Dublin


Unjust dismissal of David Clifford must compel the GAA to introduce real changes that protect its biggest stars

Eamonn Sweeney



Close

Referee Fergal Kelly shows David Clifford of Kerry a red card after a second yellow during the Allianz Football League Division 1 defeat to Tyrone at Edendork GAC in Dungannon, Co Tyrone. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Referee Fergal Kelly shows David Clifford of Kerry a red card after a second yellow during the Allianz Football League Division 1 defeat to Tyrone at Edendork GAC in Dungannon, Co Tyrone. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Referee Fergal Kelly shows David Clifford of Kerry a red card after a second yellow during the Allianz Football League Division 1 defeat to Tyrone at Edendork GAC in Dungannon, Co Tyrone. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

David Clifford might be better off in Australia. He'd be getting paid, the weather would be nicer and he'd be unlikely to suffer a sending off as ludicrous as the one inflicted upon him by referee Fergal Kelly in Edendork yesterday.

This is a premium article

Premium articles will soon be available only to Independent.ie subscribers.

The Kerry captain was on a yellow card when Tyrone's Ben McDonnell caught round him the neck, wrestled him to the ground and pinned him down five minutes from the end of normal time.

Ref Kelly was busy showing a couple of black cards on the other side of the pitch but, alerted to the incident by umpires, he booked both players which meant red for Clifford, whose only apparent offence was to be the victim of aggression.

This booking of both players after an off-the-ball incident is the traditional response of GAA referees.

No matter who is to blame, two yellows are flashed. It's as predictable a part of Irish life as voting for either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael used to be in the distant past. We laugh about it.

Close

Red twist: Kerry’s David Clifford of Kerry (far left) takes his seat on the substitutes bench after being sent off during the Allianz NFL clash against Tyrone. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Red twist: Kerry’s David Clifford of Kerry (far left) takes his seat on the substitutes bench after being sent off during the Allianz NFL clash against Tyrone. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

But that joke isn't funny anymore. Yesterday it led to Kelly doing a grave injustice to the finest footballer in the game.

Clifford's first-half yellow appeared to have been awarded for dissent after he complained to Kelly about the amount of time Niall Morgan was taking over frees with Tyrone playing against the wind.

Given that Clifford is the Kerry captain and that Morgan was indeed taking an age, the youngster might have felt entitled to protest.

We don't know what was said so we must accept that first yellow as justified. But it's very odd that a player saw red without even committing a foul.

Kelly's decision almost certainly cost Kerry a draw. Clifford was preparing to take a free he'd probably have slotted over when the incident occurred.

Sean O'Shea had to take it instead and put the ball wide. Tyrone won by a point so you could argue McDonnell's half-nelson was a match winning manoeuvre. Maybe ballads are already being composed about it in the Sperrins.

The automatic double-yellow-card routine is a blight on the GAA. But it's in the ha'penny place compared to the much bigger problem which also contributed to this sending-off.

It's the tendency among gaelic football refs, at club, county and under-age level, to give defenders far too much latitude in hampering gifted forwards.

A talented ballplayer can expect to be pushed, pulled and punched whenever he plays. The better he is, the more punishment he can expect to receive and the more laissez-faire the ref will be about it.

It's as though the game's artists are viewed as having brought this treatment on themselves. It's football's version of victim blaming, a Neanderthal belief that any player out in the afternoon with that amount of talent is asking for trouble.

Moves to make gaelic football more attractive by stemming the tide of negativity usually involve piffling rule changes which have very little effect on the problem.

But why not take the revolutionary step of affording the game's most skilful players a reasonable amount of protection? Flair players don't require special treatment, just what they're entitled to under the rules.

It's telling that David Gough's decision to properly enforce those rules in last year's All-Ireland final caused a sensation because the offences committed by Jonny Cooper against Clifford usually don't draw a free, let alone a card.

Too often, refs duck the issue to an extent which benefits the cynical and frustrates the talented.

The result of yesterday's game won't matter much at the end of the season but Clifford's sending off should be a wake-up call for the GAA.

When a defender is on the wrong end of an ability deficit, foul play might be an understandable response. But that shouldn't make it a permissible one.

Other sports have had to deal with this problem in the past.

George Best's decline was greatly exacerbated because he played in a golden age of cloggers who were allowed to sweep away an attacker's legs from behind. Hatchet men eventually butchered Diego Maradona to a standstill.

These days it's different and Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have enjoyed long careers free from the fear of being brutalised by men with a smidgeon of their talent. Soccer has been a lot better for that.

Gaelic football would also benefit if it clamped down on the kind of thing consistently perpetrated against the likes of Clifford, Con O'Callaghan, Michael Murphy, Conor McManus and Brian Hurley. If that's 'manliness', football might be better off going gender fluid.

The dragging, the wrestling, the body checking, are a plague on the game. Whereas the points struck by Clifford before his dismissal were an adornment, as were those landed by the inspired Darren McCurry for Tyrone.

When McCurry lofted a sideline kick gloriously over the bar from out the field, it sparked memories of Maurice Fitzgerald, now part of the Kerry management team.

Fitzgerald knew what it was like to provide such sublime moments but he also knew what it was like to be grabbed by the balls, to have your shorts pulled down and every other dirty trick in the book employed against you. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

It was good to see Cathal McShane come on as a sub for Tyrone.

The GAA can't afford to lose star forwards, potential or actual, to Australia. But when those stars stay here, why force them to run a perpetual gauntlet of cynicism and mean spiritedness?

Let's say goodbye to all that. Altogether now:

Come out ye men in black, protect the forward from the back

Show the fans you're on the side of the attacker

Because the GAA would be better off that way

And a much more pleasant place without the hacker.

Indo Sport