Inequality in the GAA
BEFORE the game last Saturday I was leafing through the programme and noticed that there was no mention of Stephen Kernan. I have been told since that Crossmaglen had included him among the names of substitutes for the game, and were puzzled as to why it was scrubbed off.
Crossmaglen were aware that Stephen would not play a part, and they were not intending to send him on, so why remove all trace of him like this? It was an unnecessary cheap shot, the type of petty bureaucracy that rubs an entire club and community up the wrong way.
This was far from the real tragedy here, however. We can talk about how he is free to play the next day and all is well with the world, but he should never have been sitting in the stands.
Much was said about clearing Diarmuid Connolly for the All-Ireland football final, but it was in a one-eyed hysterical way. Leaving aside the things that went on against Donegal in the semi-final, some facts remain recorded.
While Marty Boyle aggravated Connolly, the Dublin forward closed his two fists, and began pushing them in Boyle’s face. That is a striking offence, punishable by red card, and should not have been turned over.
The apologists for Connolly at the time felt that because the punch did not connect with his knuckles, then he should have been cleared to play. It’s an excuse that is both pathetic and hilarious.
Compare that to the fate of Kernan. He was hit late, from behind, and threw his arm back out of frustration. Despite being repeatedly shown footage of the incident, the various appeals body gave a series of watery excuses for not overturning the decision.
When you come from Ulster, you have to be very careful about what you make a complaint about. As soon as you do it, you are labelled as just another northern whinger, but everyone in the GAA knew that when Dublin announced they would appeal Connolly’s red card, they would be successful. This feeds a persecution complex.
We don’t know what kind of deals are cut behind the scenes, who is truly pulling the strings. There are certain strokes that are pulled and we still have parish-pump politics in operation. That cannot be the way forward.
Every year, Frank Murphy has his moment in Congress where he stitches on another dozen sub-clauses to existing rules. The language of the rule book is so shrouded in ambiguity that the appeals process is the preserve of lawyers and barristers. I find it preposterous that in an amateur association, the only people who can make sense of our laws are those who make a living at the law.
Onto the game. Referee Rory Hickey has been granted a lot of commentary, though not – it must be said – by the Crossmaglen club. Perhaps it is just a personal belief, but about ten years ago you knew where you stood with referees and big games.
You had a handful of really impressive officials such as Brian White, Pat McEnaney and perhaps John Bannon. They were going to get the big games, everyone knew what they were about, and there wasn’t a huge amount of debate about them.
Now, the national panel of referees are all seen as being on the one level, meaning that literally any of them could be called upon to take an All-Ireland final. That approach has led to Rory Hickey being horribly out of his depth last Saturday. It’s a harsh summary, but we need to face up to it.
It takes a strong official to be in there and while Croke Park are giving plenty of refs their chance, they should be able to see where they are going wrong. It’s a fact of all sporting life that some are stronger at certain jobs than others, indeed, it’s the very essence of sport, but this kind of learning-on-the-job needs to stop pretty sharpish.
I thought Garrycastle played very well, but the moment was always going to come when Cross began to turn the screw. At this point, we seen something not always associated with them.
This is no disrespect, but once they were level they had a few shots on to clinch the game. Some of them were from terrible angles.
Did a bit of headline-fever creep in? It’s never said about Cross, but there were occasions when the ball would have been better worked in. Tony McEntee gave it a bit of a mention after the game, so it’s not likely to happen the next day out!
The vagaries of space forbids me from another well-deserved eulogy on Oisín McConville and why Cross will not slip up in the replay, but that can wait until next week.
If there ever was a hurling game that Ulster would wish to bottle, it was Loughgiel’s win over Coolderry. And as a side note, it was the clearest indication of the difference a top-class finisher makes to a game with Liam Watson’s stunning first-half hat-trick.
The easy thing to do when a team like the Shamrocks make it to Croke Park, is to make assumptions based on their respective counties. We looked at Coolderry and recognised a lot of familiar names and thought that they might consign Loughgiel to a fate of glorious failure.
How wonderful it was to see Loughgiel dominating the game, being clinical when they needed to be, and showing serious bravery in their decision-making.
Liam Watson was the top-scorer in the tournament heading into the final, and I thought the opposition may have had a plan to deal with him, perhaps even going to the extremes that Anthony Daly’s Dublin regularly do in deploying a sweeper. 3-7, nothing short of a magical tally, tells a different story.
Some people are now latching onto a peculiar belief that Loughgiel’s win here could do for Antrim hurling what Crossmaglen’s early All-Ireland successes did for Armagh’s county team.
I don’t know how much these things are relevant. It’s another level and a different type of game. It will definitely make the hurling fraternity proud, and show that they should aspire to greater things, but when you go into the county set-up, the dynamics are different.