Thursday 18 January 2018

Tyrone in the soup but too many refs spoil the broth

Just as well for Tyrone that they don't have a National Football League game this weekend. After losing four players to suspension over the first two matches, they need time to draw breath.

With only one player actually sent off over the two games, the Central Competitions Control Committee have appeared to be on their case, looking for scapegoats where they deem the referee has not been hard enough.

The initial Tyrone response was to lash out at further live coverage of their games because they feel hard done by. This was a bit misguided, not least because it left them open to the retort that if their players behaved themselves there would be no problem. Anyway, it is not within their remit to decide which games are televised. That decision is made between the TV execs and the GAA and is certainly non-negotiable among individual counties.

Yet it is easy to understand the sense of injustice felt by Tyrone, by Derry, who lost Eoin Bradley, and maybe most of all Kilmurry-Ibrickane from Clare who play in the All-Ireland club semi-final today without Declan Callinan. All have fallen foul of the GAA's new moral code: Thou shalt not raise your hand to an opponent, however minor the contact, if your game is on television.

What is happening now is that matches are being refereed three times. First in real time, then by the vigilante committee who look at every detail and finally by the referee again if the CCCC ask him to review certain incidents and ask whether he might impose a stiffer sanction with the benefit of hindsight. I was surprised that Pat McEneaney, who refereed the Derry-Tyrone game, did not tell the CCCC to go jump in a lake when they asked him to look at some of the incidents again.

This is putting referees in an impossible position. There was a time when refs were above the law, but now even decisions made on the pitch are liable to be overruled. There is a motion before Congress in April which, if passed, will remove referees from this bind. The CCCC should do their own dirty work. If they feel that a player has transgressed then they should go after them and leave the referee out of it altogether. It is hard enough contending with all that is happening in a game without being second-guessed by a committee.

The spotlight falls on the CCCC. As Butch Cassidy said to the Sundance Kid: "Who are those guys?" If the referees are being named and, to an extent, shamed then surely the faceless men who pore through recordings looking for incidents should identify themselves.

To keep them busy, every county with a home game should have to submit a copy of the match to Croke Park the following day. There would hardly be much competition for the Division 4 games but if the system is to be fair to all then that is what is required.

There can hardly be much complaint at the CCCC dealing with off-the-ball incidents. Last Wednesday, I witnessed a Cork IT player strike DCU player Johnny Cooper off the ball and loosen some teeth in the process. He deserves to be dealt with severely, much more so than the few big names that the CCCC have picked on up to now.

Incidentally, that match -- with a big number of inter-county footballers -- was played at a cracking pace and anyone who feels third-level competitions have nothing to offer should go along to some of these Sigerson Cup games. Those who survive and prosper at that grade will have no trouble mixing it later at inter-county level.

In case you feel that all this is a defence of foul play and that I believe the CCCC should stay out of the process almost all the time, nothing could be further from the truth. All it means is that the referee should be left alone with his judgements: good, bad or indifferent. But if something happens off the ball, then the CCCC should step in. It means the playing field is level for all, too.

It is slightly worrying for me when I am in agreement with Mickey Harte. His job is to look after Tyrone's interest first and last, while I am supposed to have a less jaundiced view in looking at the bigger picture. Of course nobody in Tyrone will object if video evidence is used to get Joe McMahon off the red card which Jimmy White flashed last Sunday for a gentle brush-off to Peadar Gardiner. What Gardiner did was embarrassing, especially so from a player who I always considered to be above reproach.

First of all, he ran at Joe McMahon and then collapsed like a sack of spuds when McMahon merely protected himself. If McMahon can pack such a punch without any swing, then he should contact Don King immediately. The referee should have given Gardiner the card. It spoiled a brilliant performance from Mayo, who are putting together a very nice team.

Tyrone might want the tape switched off straight after the final whistle, or else Ryan McMenamin, who had been rashly tackled in the last sequence of play, might also be in trouble for comments to the referee. Maybe McMenamin was telling Jimmy White he had refereed the game superbly, although it appeared the exchange of views was very frank -- on one side at least.

An interesting week finished with news of Darragh ó Sé handing in his gun. This piece of decommissioning will be most welcomed in Cork as the Rebels could never handle him. He played more matches in championship football than any other player and I don't expect to see anyone play more often.

He ranks with the best. Darragh could play it every way, rough or smooth, and he was the engine of the Kerry side for all the great wins of the past decade. With him at midfield, Kerry had the right sort of hard edge to back up the silky skills elsewhere. If players of the last ten years were asked for one man they would like to have playing for them, most would say Darragh ó Sé.

He had a presence that will be very difficult to replace. He got a lot from the game but gave everything he had in return, he left it all on the pitch and when it was over, it was over. Darragh ó Sé was a great player in the proper sense of the word. Nobody is irreplaceable but Kerry might spend a generation looking for someone as good.

Sunday Independent

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