It was the most Irish of statements, brandished bullshit devoid of balls and honesty, delivered in front of an audience who ultimately contribute towards Liam Sheedy’s pay cheque on this the most glorious of Sunday afternoons. “If you're following by the rules it could be a red card”, akin to a politician of the early noughties defending a brown envelope because on the night the champagne ended up tasting that bit sweeter. The RTE panel comprising of three GAA men ignore the conclusive evidence that Shane O’Neill should have seen red after striking Clare full-forward Darach Honan with tremendous insolence, again proving that despite the vast changes brought about by transforming from a rural, traditional country to a modern state, the self-regarded cultural organisation like no other worldwide remains “a mirror in which the Irish nation can always see its true face” as the sociologist Liam Ryan suggested. The coverage of the incident by the analysts can only be defined as negligent; brushing off what could have been the decisive moment on All Ireland Final day; however considering the hurling summer that has passed this seems rather fitting. The reason for Brian Gavin’s error in booking both players involved in the Cork square traces back to the middle of July.
Hurling is the most exhilarating sport in the world, rarely allowing the amazed spectator a second to catch their breath. The skill level of modern athletes in the sport is nothing short of amazing; from Tony Kelly swaying his hips and slipping through a swarm of Limerickmidfielders before bisecting the posts from 65 meters out or Joe Canning popping passes blind behind his back to a teammate; these feats would translate to awe-inspired individuals across the world had they access to the sport. However the physical requirements of hurlers in modern times is perhaps even more astonishing, with thirty finely-tuned machines masquerading as amateurs taking to the gargantuan (145x88 meters) stage of Croke Park in August each year. 22 of the 30 starters yesterday were 25 or under, emphasising its status as an energetic, young man’s game. With the details mentioned most acknowledge that perfection will never be found in the refereeing of a match, particularly considering hurling’s allowance for a high level of physical contact.
The most the GAA can do is offer its referees assistance and backing as most sane sporting organisations do, informing them of areas they believe require improvement in the interest of player safety and attempting to alter the referees interpretations towards decision making. This is something they did at the turn of the new year, instructing the men in the middle to punish striking to the head and groin area with more severity than recent years. James McGrath of Westmeath received these guidelines and appropriately took action in the Munster Final by sending of Rebel Patrick Horgan for striking Paudie O’Brien prior to half-time, a decision which had a massive bearing on Limerick’s deserved provincial success that day.
Yet despite receiving backing from former referees, the head of the National Refereeing Committee’s head Pat McEnaney and indeed the rulebook (5.2 To strike or to attempt to strike an opponent with a hurley, with minimal force. Penalty: Minimum 4 weeks suspension inclusive of the next Game even if that game falls outside the suspension time period) McGrath was undermined by those above him. Cork’s appeal over the decision was successful; McGrath was pilloried by those above him and the sport lost credibility due to those responsible for its welfare.
One of last years All Ireland referees wasn’t enough however, there was time to belittle Barry Kelly (James McGrath took charge of the replay) following Kilkenny’s quarter final defeat at the hands of the aforementioned Pat Horgan at the beginning of August. On the back of a cringe-worthy media campaign which was as vomit inducing as Irishness can be, justice for Henry was plucked at the expense of yet another elite-level man in black. Nobody argues that there is a room for criticism in the refereeing of the sport, defeated manager Brian Cody seemed to find a balance in his post-match comments that day. Yet continually ceding ground to popular opinion at the expense of an adequate level of governance is detrimental to any sport.
Decisions for the masses without an adequate legal foundation contradict fairness, one value included in the ethos of gaelic games. Brian Gavin was petrified of being hung out to dry by his bosses yesterday having seen the Horgan and Shefflin incidents play out in public so instead played his hand safe, keeping controversy at an arm’s length instead of confidently backing his judgement like McGrath and Kelly before him.
By coining an early red card ‘anti-sport’ and suggesting it unjustly ruins an occasion like yesterday’s we may as well tear up the rulebook and let a primal brawl commence with the last man standing leading his team to victory. Sending off Cork’s number three yesterday may have poured all his effort over the past twelve months down the drain but by offering him our sympathy in our decision making we’re negating Clare’s right to a level playing field. Clare may or may not have run away with victory had Cork been reduced to 14 men but they deserved the opportunity to find out, regardless of it pissing all over the spectacle. Shane O’Neill ruined the final in the first fifteen minutes yesterday only to have the fortune of the GAA’s summer antics save him in return for some of sport’s credibility.