Monday 20 November 2017

Jamesie O'Connor: Davygate has turned crossing the line into a high-risk business

Davy Fitzgerald Picture: Sportsfile
Davy Fitzgerald Picture: Sportsfile

Jamesie O'Connor

Having watched events unfold as they did last Sunday, it hardly came as a surprise that my old team-mate Davy Fitz, found himself the centre of attention again this week.

He crossed a line in Nowlan Park - literally and figuratively - and because it occurred in a big televised game, there was no way the authorities could sweep this one under the carpet and pretend it didn't happen. The unfortunate pictures that appeared on the front pages of some of last Monday's newspapers made certain of it.

We all know that things can happen in the heat of the moment. Diarmuid Kirwan definitely got it wrong, in failing to award what was a cast-iron free out to Wexford, in the incident that led to the game's second goal. When Tipp capitalised and exacted the maximum return, the Wexford management were entitled to be incensed. Nonetheless, the pitch is the preserve of the players, and Davy had no business coming on to the field to remonstrate with Kirwan. While his issue was with the referee, and I'm sure he never intended to get involved with Niall O'Meara or Jason Forde, you can't have managers getting into altercations on the field with players. Who said what or who pushed who first is irrelevant. He shouldn't have been out there.

When players are fired up and the adrenaline is flowing, things can escalate very quickly, and I can understand the GAA wanting to lay down a marker. This kind of stuff isn't tolerated in other sports, and they're sending the message out that it's no longer acceptable in our games either.

The candour Davy showed afterwards in his interview with Micheál ó Dómhnaill and TG4 may also have counted against him. By intimating that his actions were designed to get his own players fired up mightn't have been the wisest course of action to take. Admitting, with a glint in his eye as he did so, that there was a certain level of premeditation in his actions was never going to go down well with the CCCC.

What the eight-week ban they've hit him with means is still a grey area. Obviously he watches Wexford's first two championship matches - assuming things go according to plan - from the stands. That's not ideal, given the second of those is likely to be against Kilkenny down in Wexford Park. Considering the cauldron that place is likely to be, it might actually be no harm for Davy to be that bit removed from the action on June 10. I often think managers are likely to see more in terms of how the game unfolds tactically from the stand anyway. The key thing is that the proposed suspension doesn't involve a full training ban or preclude his direct involvement with the team. That would be excessively harsh, and potentially hurt Wexford's chances.

But the sooner there's closure on this episode for Davy and Wexford the better, so they can get on with preparing for what's set to be a more interesting championship.

It won't have bothered either Michael Ryan or Micheál Donoghue that many of the column inches earmarked for today's league final have been taken up with Davygate. Of far more immediate concern to the Tipperary manager is Jason Forde potentially missing two championship matches for his role in that incident and how long the broken thumb sustained by Seamus Callanan last weekend is likely to keep him out for. Forde has every right to feel hard done by, and I assume Tipp will appeal. This may well be a warning shot to the players about their responsibilities on the field, and to further deter these types of incidents. If this suspension sticks, and I don't think it will, a serious precedent will have been set.

What Callanan's injury means is someone else in the Tipperary panel gets the opportunity in a big game today. To that end, Michael Ryan has to be happy with what he's got out of the last eight weeks. The decision was obviously taken that players were going to be given opportunities early on, and because of that policy, the scope of the panel has certainly been broadened.

Understandably, as the stakes have gotten higher - beginning with the visit of Kilkenny - more of the established starters have re-appeared. Clearly, Tipp want more silverware, and have the panel deep enough to ensure that, unlike Clare 12 months ago, it's not going to compromise their championship ambitions.

That said, they didn't have it all their own way in Kilkenny last Sunday. I thought they laboured for much of the match - the lead was back to just two points and Conor McDonald missed a long-range free - but they produced that burst of acceleration that only the real top-class sides are capable of. In third gear for most of the game, they still put 5-18 on the board. And that was with Callanan not fully functioning, and Bubbles O'Dwyer on the bench for most of the match. That's a luxury that Tipp can afford because in John McGrath they possess arguably the most exciting and under-rated talent in the game. It's only now he's starting to show what he's capable of.

For Galway to win today, and with Callanan out, McGrath is now the guy they have to stop. Therein lies the problem for Micheál Donoghue. His team's Achilles heel remains the defence. Apart from Adrian Tuohy, who was a big addition late last year, I'm not sure they've found a single new defender with the athleticism and scope to survive in Croke Park in July or August.

They do know that probably their best centre-back Daithi Burke, can do the job at full-back. If they cross paths with Tipp later in the summer, Burke has shown that he has the tools to deal with Callanan. The question for Donoghue is whether or not he has someone capable of containing John McGrath and Bubbles O'Dwyer either side of Tipp's number 14. I'm not sure that he has, but today is the day to find out the answers to some of those questions.

There's also the option of starting Burke at number six in Callanan's absence and taking a chance that the full-back line will be good enough without him. What Galway do have, is an abundance of size and physicality in attack, along with no little skill, and they have shown they can go toe to toe with Tipp in a shoot-out and come out the right side of it. Having Johnny Glynn back in the mix is a huge bonus.

When it comes to picking a winner, there are fewer doubts about Tipp. Using Wexford as a formline, I'm still wondering how Galway lost that match in Salthill, with promotion on the line, after being six points clear with 20 minutes left and the wind at their backs. Tipp, with the wind in their faces, and a two-point lead, put Wexford to the sword last Sunday with a devastating ten-minute burst. Galway will make it awkward, and it's hardly a shock if they pull it off, but for me, it's a Tipperary win.

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