Sunday 22 April 2018

John Mullane: Credit to Clare - but referee Kirwan should consider hanging up his whistle

Match referee Diarmuid Kirwan. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Match referee Diarmuid Kirwan. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile

John Mullane

Before I discuss Diarmuid Kirwan's performance, congratulations to Clare.

Fair play to them, it was the ultimate smash-and-grab raid. They kept going to the end, kept plugging away and got their reward - a first league title since 1978.

But how was Kirwan feeling last night as he drove home? Did he have any regrets at all last night?

Because, in my opinion, his performance deprived Waterford's players, management and supporters of the chance to create history. Never before has a Waterford senior team managed to win back-to-back league, Munster or All-Ireland titles, but Kirwan robbed us of that little bit of history.

Will he now be called upon to answer questions about his performance by the National Referees' Committee?

As far as I'm concerned, his display was absolutely dreadful and he should think about hanging up his boots.

This is not a knee-jerk reaction, let me make that perfectly clear.

I wrote last Monday that a referee is not going to get every decision right.

In the drawn match, I thought Brian Gavin had a very good 90 minutes.

I would have questioned one or two of his decisions, but, overall, he was most competent.

But comparing Brian's performance to Kirwan's is like chalk and cheese. Kirwan lost the plot from very early on, awarding frees, for both teams I stress, that weren't frees.

And when there were blatant frees that should have been awarded, he didn't give them.

I felt that Kirwan found himself on the receiving end of pressure from the Clare bench, and nearly felt within himself that he had to balance things up by giving that injury-time free to Tony Kelly.

What a huge call to make at such a crucial time, and Waterford paid the ultimate price.

On the flipside, Waterford were three points clear with four minutes of normal time remaining and, when Brian O'Halloran clipped over a point to provide that cushion, I thought it was game, set and match.

Everything had gone Waterford's way in the first half, they got off to a dream start and went with the two-man full-forward line.

The positional switches were rewarding from a Waterford perspective and Clare struggled to counteract them.

Austin Gleeson was at centre forward, Tadhg de Búrca occupied the sweeper role and Kevin Moran played at centre-back.

Clare were at sixes and sevens and Waterford got in for those two first-half goals.

But, credit to Clare and the brilliance of Conor McGrath, that ensured they were only three behind at half-time.

And yet, Waterford were six clear, 2-15 to 0-15, before Kelly produced a moment of brilliance for a vital goal, set up by Aaron Cunningham.

However, Clare were missing the kind of frees that Waterford missed seven days before.

Patrick Curran dug in with a massive performance for Waterford, hitting 1-9, and Austin Gleeson wasn't far behind him with a massive display.

Jamie Barron was super too, and he had to dash off after the game to be present at his grandmother's funeral. We get incredibly emotional about hurling matches, but let's not forget the grief that Jamie, Patrick Curran and Clare selector Louis Mulqueen carried into the game.

To those lads and their families, my deepest sympathies and condolences at this difficult time following the deaths of their loved ones.

Returning to the hurling, all the talk coming out of Thurles after the drawn match was about how the game was in trouble.

However, we can safely say after the replay that hurling is still in a really good place.

We had 45 scores and we can look forward to another cracker on June 5, when the two teams go at it again in the Munster semi-final.

Clare have the psychological edge ahead of that game now. Waterford have invested a huge amount in 160-plus minutes - but they have no league title to show for it.

They should have won the game in normal time in both matches, but you've got to hand it to Clare.

It would have been very easy with four or five minutes left, when they went three points down, to lob the ball in and chase a goal - but they kept the scoreboard ticking over with points.

At full-time, I was gutted - and I can only imagine how the management team and players are feeling this morning as they digest the result.

Still, there's no better man to pick them up and have them mentally right for four weeks' time than Derek McGrath.

But it will stick in Waterford's craw that they had this one more or less pinched from under their noses.

Kirwan can't make a call like that unless he's 100pc certain that it was a free.

Surely, the common sense option when the ball sailed between the posts was to blow it up and take the game into extra-time.

Instead, he allowed play to continue - and the rest is history.

Irish Independent

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