Furious Kenny and Dundalk lash out at Buttimer Referee sparks outrage after two red cards in 'five minutes of madness' produces 'farce'
Drogheda Utd 1 Dundalk 0
OVER an hour after the conclusion of this FAI Cup semi-final, the game's dominant figure finally left his dressing room. This was Anthony Buttimer's day.
On another afternoon, Mick Cooke's success in bringing Drogheda to a third cup final this year would have dominated the post-mortem but this Louth derby will be remembered for the contribution of the Cork official, who sent off two Dundalk players in a frantic first-half spell and then dismissed two members of their coaching staff as frustrations boiled over.
After a long chat with the referees' assessor, Buttimer refused to make a comment to waiting press afterwards, stopping only for a lengthy chat with RTE pundit Pat Dolan before making his way home.
His display had already provoked widespread comment from within the League of Ireland community. Numerous current players from other clubs took to social media to offer their views on an official that has always polarised opinions.
"Buttimer shouldn't be near league games let alone a game of this importance," tweeted Shelbourne's experienced defender Graham Gartland.
He wasn't alone in his views. The strongest condemnation, naturally, came from the bitterly disappointed Dundalk camp.
"It's a bad day for the League of Ireland, a bad day for refereeing in Ireland and a bad day for John Ward, the head of referees, if he presides over that," said furious manager Stephen Kenny.
"The referee had five minutes of madness and killed the game," added midfielder Chris Shields, the second player to be sent for an early bath. "That's the worst day I've had in football."
The game turned on a crazy spell around the half-hour mark. First, Darren Meenan caught Paul O'Conor with a late tackle that was greeted with a red card.
"His first tackle of the game," said Shields. "If you look at the conditions, it was soaking wet. Maybe a yellow."
As Dundalk came to terms with that decision, they were sucker-punched when Declan O'Brien slipped into the area where he tumbled under a challenge from Shields. Replays indicated he made contact with the ball.
"I thought I did," argued the distraught player. "If I didn't get the ball, it was a penalty, but it was never a red card. There were two men covering."
Amid the acrimony, Gavin Brennan slotted the spot-kick away.
Kenny took off striker Pat Hoban, introduced a midfielder in the shape of John Mountney and tried to construct a game plan with nine men. Yet there were Dundalk officials who felt that withdrawing the team to the dressing room was the smart move at that juncture.
Kenny admitted it had crossed his mind in his pitchside interview before the break.
At half-time, Buttimer was surrounded by the remaining players who were told to retreat by assistant Vinny Perth and fitness coach Graham Byrne. However, the back-room pair were then sent off for their subsequent comments.
The remainder of the fixture was played in a surreal atmosphere with Drogheda struggling to penetrate Dundalk's two banks of four and almost getting caught out at the death when sub Tiernan Mulvenna – brought on to add pace in the hope of nicking an equaliser – evaded the last line of defence but was unable to find a way past Michael Schlingermann.
Drogheda might have added a second in the final minute but Brennan fluffed his lines with just Peter Cherrie to beat.
In a way, it summed up their day as they stuttered to a dream trip to the Aviva Stadium. Cooke, who will leave Drogheda at the end of the season after falling out with the hierarchy, acknowledged his team had laboured to victory. "We got very nervous," he said.
Kenny, on the other hand, was left to reflect on what could have been. He's endured a tough fortnight after losing the initiative in the league to St Patrick's Athletic – and his suggestion that UCD might lie down for the Saints infuriated Liam Buckley, who has called for an apology.
This wasn't the right time to ask for his reaction. "The players dedicate their lives to playing here and in this league for not very much and I think the level of professionalism is very high and then you get this. It's just farce," he continued.
"There's no recourse. The FAI need to have a look at that, Fran Gavin needs to have a look at that – why are we tolerating that? It's our livelihoods, our career. This club have been to Lansdowne Road only once in their history and I think the possibilities that existed with getting there again were just huge. But we don't get the opportunity; it's been taken from us."
Outside the ground, skipper Stephen O'Donnell, who collected the man of the match award for his efforts, shook his head as he discussed the name on everybody's lips.
"I might get banned for saying this but it's so disappointing," he said. "Once I heard he (Buttimer) was appointed, I knew something was going to happen. The game had a big red light written all over it – and not particularly against us – the two teams. I knew it. There was no doubt in my mind someone was getting sent off today.
"I don't know how these refs get appointed to these big games. Alan Kelly did the other game, he's the best ref in the league, so surely give the second best referee in the league – whoever it is – the other cup semi. Not Anthony Buttimer – that's for sure."
Drogheda United – Schlingermann, Daly, Prendergast, McNally, Grimes; Byrne; Cassidy, R Brennan, O'Conor (Hynes 61), G Brennan; O'Brien.
Dundalk – Cherrie, Sullivan (Faherty 75), Gartland, Boyle, Massey; O'Donnell, Shields; Meenan, Towell, Byrne (Mulvenna 66); Hoban (Mountney 38).
Ref – A Buttimer (Cork)