Referees aren't like us
LAST night, I spent the evening at the Odyssey for the Belfast Giants v Sheffield Steelers clash, the result of which would decide the fate of the Elite League. A 5-1 victory for the Giants sealed the victory and the 7,000 capacity crowd a hundred of which were from our school, went bananas.
They do things differently in ice hockey, far different to the GAA. For example, for each break in play, they play upbeat music to keep the crowd going. If the GAA did this, we’d need a quare amount of music, considering the number of stoppages there are in an average match.
For the first half, you could get through all of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ and still have time for at least three of the four sides of Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous depending on the referee and their weird and wonderful interpretations of our rule book.
Which brings me to the match last Saturday, the second half of which was probably the best 30 minutes of football I have seen in years. Referees are the most unloved of all the GAA species because they just don’t care who wins.
Some refs gain respect for their common sense handling of matches, but this is a high risk strategy because if the teams aren’t on the same page as the ref, very soon things get out of control, particularly if he has decided to let things go in the interests of a free flowing match.
Alternatively, a vain ref can ruin a game and find spurious justification for his decisions in the rule book which is open to ten interpretations depending on the day of the week. However, the rule on head butting is simple, it doesn’t matter where you are, on the field, in the school yard, in the pub, at the disco, a headbutt gets you ejected from every premises in Ireland – apart from Croke park on All Ireland final club day, it seems.
Meanwhile, watching from the stands was the Crossmaglen captain who wasn’t playing on the biggest day of his life.
The rule on lifting the ball off the ground in the square and then throwing it to the goalie is equally straight. Two years ago, players were getting blown up for not making a firm fisting motion on the ball, but all that has changed and I don’t remember a Congress where it was discussed and changed back to the old way.
But this is the GAA. The one good thing about the replay is that the prospect of seeing Stephen Kernan lifting the Andy Merrigan Cup is alive again, something which he thought was beyond him on Saturday morning. Cross know that a start as shocking as Saturday would not do, but if they can start like they ended St Patrick’s Day, their sixth title might become a reality.
In the first match, Loughgiel Shamrocks put on a vintage display of pure hurling to put Coolderry to the sword. It was such a proud moment to be an Ulster man and to hear the supporters shout ‘SHAMROCKS’ in that broad north Antrim accent would send a shiver up your spine.
St. Patrick’s Day is very special in the GAA calendar and Croke Park on this day is the place to bring anyone who doesn’t understand what the association means to tiny communities round the country.
The real losers from the drawn game have to be Armagh who will have been denied the services of the Cross lads for at least another fortnight at a crucial time of the year. Were it not for their remarkable annual odyssey, the likes of James Morgan, Aaron Cunningham and other lads would have three or four games under their belt and becoming accustomed to the pace and fury of the county game.
Add to that the likes of Aaron and Jamie for play-making at the back and creativity in the forwards, and the inevitable three or four others who should make the step up and you would get a clearer picture of what Armagh could do in the championship.
And then to Monday and the MacRory and MacLarnon finals. The MacLarnon contest was a bit special because St Paul’s were involved and our eldest lad was lining out. We were anxious because we have lost four finals in the last two years, the latest of which was only a few weeks ago and it’s all too easy to develop a name for choking on the big day.
Although we are an all ability school, we moved into the Colleges set-up a few years ago after much soul searching because our hearts belong in the vocational sector and we miss the tussles with the likes of Ballygawley, St Mark’s and Castlederg.
However, we always felt we could mix it with the grammar schools and Monday was our redemption. Last year we got to the MacLarnon final and the Rannafast semi final and the previous year we won the Herald Cup, so we are now a force to be reckoned with in Ulster schools football.
We had a great week of celebrating in the school and credit has to be given to John Rafferty, Martin O’Rourke and the other lads who work so hard to make our teams the best they can be.
The MacRory final was won by Enniskillen, but pride of place on the day has to go to the Maghera support who were simply inspiring. Over a thousand of them, all decked in the colours, faces painted, singing, dancing, supporting and making a crescendo of noise throughout the match.
I stood right in the middle of them and have never seen such a well behaved, sober and passionate group of kids. They deserve so much credit for their behaviour. MacRory finals have become a bit of a calamity in recent years and last year’s was a particular low point for wanton drunkenness, but both sets of supporters made this fixture a bit special.
They can hold their heads high for turning the MacRory into a carnival. When you have this sort of crowd, you don’t need music during the stoppages.