Tag Archives: Meath

Video nasty

For years I was sceptical about the efficacy or need for video reviews in Gaelic games and soccer. It may have worked fine in cricket, rugby and tennis but these are stop-start sports, a series of set-pieces with obvious gaps in which to pause and review the action. There’s no such luxury in the more frenetic sports. Besides, would video really eliminate gross injustices? When Stephane Henchoz handled Thierry Henry’s goalbound effort early in the 2001 FA Cup final, it wasn’t until much later in the evening on Match of the Day that footage was produced to show he had definitely handled it. If a decision was marginal, video wasn’t going to show anything that enlightening and the ref has to make a binary decision which inherently will displease someone. And if an infringement is blatant, they’ll get it right the first time. Contrary to popular opinion, the referee usually has the best view of the lot, mere metres away from the action. A little more faith that they’ll make the right call would lead to lot less angst.

Then 2010 happened, and such highbrow objections melted way in the face of a litany of refereeing clangers. The first one was in the World Cup, when even watching from several metres away on a flat screen it was clear that Frank Lampard’s header against Germany had crossed the line. Yet the referee and the linesman, both of whom had the benefit of their two eyes to see it in three dimensions, somehow contrived to miss it. Worse still was Carlos Tevez’s goal for Argentina against Mexico, helping the ball into the net from a blatantly offside position. In both cases you were left wondering what on earth the officials had thought they had seen. What parallel universe did they inhabit in which the ball had not crossed the line / Tevez was onside? A classic case of justice not only being done, but being seen to be believed.

This is all a prelude to the fiascos we have witnessed in Gaelic games this year. The eleventh of July should have been a day for referees to be quietly smug, as Johnny Ryan awarded the free that led to Tony Browne’s sensational equalising goal. The world and her husband were convinced that some gross injustice had been performed, until multiple replays finally yielded the holding of John Mullane’s hurley. A definite free, and one in the eye for those who think referees would be grateful for just one eye. Alas for the guild of officials Martin Sludden and his umpires were flushing any credit Johnny Ryan may have earned for the brotherhood down the pan with their inexplicable interpretation of Joe Sheridan’s goal. Add in Benny Coulter’s square ball goal for Down against Kildare and the notion that we can rely on referees to get the easy calls right and video won’t tell us much on the hard calls lies in as many pieces as Louth-to-win-Leinster betting slips.

The reactions of the respective authorities to these calamities has been revealing. Sepp Blatter has accepted the need to look at the issue again, saying “it is obvious that after the experience so far in this World Cup it would be a nonsense to not reopen the file of technology at the business meeting of the International FA Board in July.” It’s not often that the words ‘Blatter’ and ‘principle’ could be used in the same sentence, but my reading of Blatter’s objections to technology was one of *cough* principle, i.e. that soccer should be treated the same at all levels whether it’s a Junior League match in Ozier Park or the World Cup final in Soccer City. It’s an admirable position to take, but when the facts changed he expressed a willingness to change his mind. The same can not be said of Christy Cooney.

(As an aside, this shouldn’t be personal and I hope I’ve kept the invective against him to a minimum, but I’m finding it hard to warm to Christy Cooney. On just about every red button issue this summer – pitch invasions, various refereeing debacles, the staging of the Under-21 final at Tipperary’s home venue –  he’s managed to stand on the opposite side of the fence (pun unintended) as myself. When Seán Kelly took an activist position on the subject of opening Croke Park to soccer and rugby, many people objected that an Uachtaráin would take sides in the debate. This struck me as being wrong-headed on the basis that as the only nationally elected official in the association the President was exactly the man to take a position on a subject. Looking at Christy Cooney, it’s a case of ‘be careful what you wish for . . .’ )

Christy Cooney has decided technology is not the way to go. Why? There are myriad reasons such as the difficulty of deciding what should be subject to review or preserving the authority of referees, which are fair enough. But two comments really stick out. The first is that “our games are built on passion. Our games are about the continuous flow of the game. The last thing I want is a lot of stoppages. It doesn’t do anything to help us.” Putt ing aside the implication that a game like rugby lacks passion, why should this be a reason for not having video refs? When infuriated Louth fans spilled on to the pitch after the Leinster final they were certainly not lacking in passion, but this was clearly the bad type of passion which had to be eliminated at all costs. Then there is his observation that “in sport, you are lucky some days, unlucky on other days.” Imagine if Cork had experienced the same scenario as Louth did that day. The Cork man would ultimately shrug his shoulders. If it only happens to you once you’ll have 99 other chances soon enough. The same could not be said of the Louth man, who at the current rate will have to wait 5,940 years to get their 99 chances.

Video referees are inevitable at this stage – they’ve probably been inevitable for a lot longer than this, since the days when Hawkeye first showed a bale being nudged off the leg stump on live television, but it took England’s experience in the World Cup to make me see it. How long will it take the GAA top brass? When you’re lagging behind Sepp ‘tighter shorts’ Blatter in the innovation stakes, something is wrong.

Taking the ref with the smooth

Between the matches on Sunday I asked my sister’s boyfriend if he could check on his Blackberry what was happening in Croke Park. “World War III” was what was happening. The events at the end and in the aftermath of the Leinster final throw up three areas for discussion:

  1. the violence displayed towards the referee
  2. what should be done in terms of awarding the game to Louth or having a replay
  3. the quality of referring

Number 1 can be disposed of easily enough. There’s no justification for the violence meted out on Martin Sludden and it’s astounding to see the extent to which the likes of JP Rooney are doing just that. Anger isn’t a justification for violence whether it be because you’ve been robbed of a first title in fifty-something years or someone spilled your pint in a nightclub. There are tangential issues regarding the response of the Gardaí and the security staff at Croke Park, the same people who whisked Jimmy Cooney off so fast as to make a restarting of the notorious Clare-Offaly match in 1998 impossible. Then there’s the noteworthiness of Peter Fitzpatrick’s response, calmly (or as calmly as you could expect) remonstrating with the ref on behalf of his entire team and physically defending him from the fellow countymen who sought to bring shame on them all. Ultimately, it needs to said loud and clear: it was unacceptable, and hopefully prosecutions will follow.

The second issue is what should happen next. At the time of writing attitudes are hardening in Meath towards the notion of having a replay, and you can see their point. Colm O’Rourke touched on it on The Sunday Game when he wondered whether there would be the same furore if the roles were reversed. The answer to that is: absolutely not, everyone would be chuckling at Meath’s misfortune and rejoicing in how the fates had delivered a wee county from a hemicentennial famine. If we are to ask Meath to make what An Spailpín Fanach has referred to as “a truly regal gesture” then we have to accept that they have the freedom to be merely ordinary and say that no, what we have we hold. As for the Pontius Pilates in Croke Park who have washed their hands of the whole affair, you can see their point too. In an era when the GAA are habitually ridiculed for the Byzantine lack of decisiveness of their appeals procedure, establishing a precedent where every referring decision is up for grabs would be a recipe for anarchy – indeed, Ben O’Connor’s ‘point’ is even being seriously referenced as something Waterford should be able to query. Hard cases make bad law, and they don’t come much harder than this. It looks like Louth are going to have to console themselves with the reality that the back door means their season isn’t over like it would have been back in the day.

(It probably should be noted that I might not be so blasé about the phantom point if Waterford were still chasing their first Munster title since 1963. This would be entirely correct, but that only emphasises that the last people who should be asked for a lucid opinion on the Louth-Meath game are people from Louth and Meath.)

Finally we come to the more long term issue to arise from this debacle, that of the standards of referees. It’s easy to feel sorry for Martin Sludden if you look at things from the point where he frantically demands of a guard to know what he was doing as the mob descended intent on tarring & feathering him. Remember, the bottle that struck a steward on the head was directed at the referee and God knows what manner of items could have been hurled if they were available. But rewind things back a few more seconds and it becomes harder to feel sorry for Sludden. Given what had just happened the response of the Louth players was relatively restrained, mainly because of Peter Fitzpatrick’s firm handling of the situation. There were no Roy Keane-style spittle-flecked tirades. Yet there was Sludden blithely firing out yellow cards, at one stage even looking like he gave one to a supporter!

The extent to which referees exist in their own bubble of certainty is one of the great problems facing not just Gaelic games but all sports with an adjudicator. Seven years ago, I wrote about  a soccer referee who, when watching the footage of a clanger he had made in match in the 1970’s, could not bring himself to say that jeez, that wasn’t one of my finest hours. You could argue this doesn’t apply to Martin Sludden who has admitted his error, but in some ways that only makes things worse because the likeliehood is that he knew he’d gotten it wrong at the time but was too stubborn to admit it. Look at the Frank Lampard goal against Germany that wasn’t given during the World Cup. People watching it at home on portable TVs on the far side of the room could see it had crossed the line, yet the referee and linesman couldn’t. Kevin McStay criticised Sludden for not getting closer to the action, but how much closer did he need to be to see that Joe Sheridan had not kicked the ball over the line, the only way he could possibly score once he had caught the ball. Neither Jorge Larrionda or Martin Sludden should have needed video technology to tell them that the ball was over the line / not kicked over the line. I would suggest that had they taken a few seconds – several, if need be – to digest what they had seen they would have come to the right conclusion. Instead they both made their minds up instantly and insisted that reality would have to bend to their will rather than let them be seen to be weak. As Martin Sludden trotted in to talk to the umpire any thoughts that crap, I’m not sure that was a goal, were ruthlessly crushed by the mental processes that have informed referees since time immemorial.

Referees have got to realise that the tough man stance that may have served them well back in the days before cameras were scrutinising every move are long gone. Perhaps taking your time will only bring another set of problems – you only have to look at the aggro when an offside flag is late to see that – but it certainly would have done Martin Sludden the power of good.

Counties That I Don’t Hate – Down

(No 2 in a series of 2)

Picture it. Waterford. 1991. Since we had won our first ever title in 1929, we had managed to win something – anything – in every decade. Until the 1980’s, that is, when we had not only won nothing but had plumbed the depths of Division Three hurling and been massacred in our three Munster final appearances. We’d even had the privilege of watching the team implode live on national television in the 1989 final. Not a good time to be following the Déise.

The 80’s had been a grim time for the GAA. An All-Ireland hurling semi-final had been attended by a mere nine thousand souls (Galway – Cork in 1985) and the Ulster and Connacht football championships were utterly bankrupt – the champions of those provinces had not beaten a team from Leinster or Munster since Galway in 1973. It’s hard to sustain interest in a sport when there is so little competition among all teams in general and from your own in particular. Add in the thrill of Italia ’90, and people were asking in all seriousness where the GAA was to go from here.

The first step in the rehabilitation of the GAA came from Meath, or specifically the sensational clash between Meath and Dublin in the 1991 Leinster championship that captured the imagination of a nation. It was so all-consuming that even my mother sat down to watch the fourth and decisive match. I had developed a loathing of the Royal County in the preceding years, fuelled by paternal links with Cork and the cast of, er, characters that populated Sean Boylan’s team. Every match you’d watch hoping they’d trip up, every time they’d sail close to the wind, and every time they’d squeeze through. They were behind for most of the semi-final against Roscommon but with a mixture of grit, nerve and (I can admit this nearly 20 years on) talent, they were ahead at the finish. Another failure from the Connacht crew. It was galling, and all the more compelling for that.

Meanwhile in the other half of the draw, Kerry had sucker-punched a previously dominant Cork to come out of Munster. No one was thinking they were world beaters – the hiding they had taken in the 1990 final and the less-than-stellar manner in which they had disposed of Limerick saw to that – but they were still Kerry, right? Yes, they were and while Down had a cute record of never having lost to Kerry in the championship, they were still from Ulster and thus were going to fill their appointed role as the Munster team’s bitch. Even leading for much of the game did not change that. Had Tyrone not done the same in 1986?

Then it happened. It may not have played out exactly as I remember it, but the sentiment is what matters. A slick Down move saw Peter Withnall put clear through on Charlie Nelligan and he smashed the ball to the net with aplomb. Suddenly Down were in a winning position and they never faltered in the remaining time, belief that they would do it coursing through every action. Watching it at home, I was gobsmacked. A minnow could put it up to one of the kingpins of Gaelic games and succeed.

Five weeks later Down were back in Croke Park against the evil Meed, and it was clear they meant business. The sea of red and black that rippled across Hill 16 was utterly inspirational, one Tricolour-wielding fool only slightly marring the beauty. Down duly shot down Meath, even withstanding one of those famous zombie-like comebacks. For the first time in my lifetime, a team who had no expectation at the start of the year to winning the All-Ireland had won the All-Ireland.

A year later another county would unexpectedly taste success.  I genuinely don’t think this is a coincidence. Could Donegal and Derry have won Sam Maguire if Down had not shown them the way? And why should such a transmission of belief stop at the Ulster border? Since then, I’ve always had a soft spot for Down. They showed the rest of the GAA world that it could be done. And more importantly, they showed me that it could be done, something has sustained me to this day.

Counties That I Don’t Hate – Down

(No 2 in a series of 2)

Picture it. Waterford. 1991. Since we had won our first ever title in 1929, we had managed to win something – anything – in every decade. Until the 1980’s, that is, when we had not only won nothing but had plumbed the depths of Division Three hurling and been massacred in our three Munster final appearances. We’d even had the privilege of watching the team implode live on national television in the 1989 final. Not a good time to be following the Déise.

The 80’s had been a grim time for the GAA. An All-Ireland hurling semi-final had been attended by a mere nine thousand souls (Galway – Cork in 1985) and the Ulster and Connacht football championships were utterly bankrupt – the champions of those provinces had not beaten a team from Leinster or Munster since Galway in 1973. It’s hard to sustain interest in a sport when there is so little competition among all teams in general and from your own in particular. Add in the thrill of Italia ’90, and people were asking in all seriousness where the GAA was to go from here.

The first step in the rehabilitation of the GAA came from Meath, or specifically the sensational clash between Meath and Dublin in the 1991 Leinster championship that captured the imagination of a nation. It was so all-consuming that even my mother sat down to watch the fourth and decisive match. I had developed a loathing of the Royal County in the preceding years, fuelled by paternal links with Cork and the cast of, er, characters that populated Sean Boylan’s team. Every match you’d watch hoping they’d trip up, every time they’d sail close to the wind, and every time they’d squeeze through. They were behind for most of the semi-final against Roscommon but with a mixture of grit, nerve and (I can admit this nearly 20 years on) talent, they were ahead at the finish. Another failure from the Connacht crew. It was galling, and all the more compelling for that.

Meanwhile in the other half of the draw, Kerry had sucker-punched a previously dominant Cork to come out of Munster. No one was thinking they were world beaters – the hiding they had taken in the 1990 final and the less-than-stellar manner in which they had disposed of Limerick saw to that – but they were still Kerry, right? Yes, they were and while Down had a cute record of never having lost to Kerry in the championship, they were still from Ulster and thus were going to fill their appointed role as the Munster team’s bitch. Even leading for much of the game did not change that. Had Tyrone not done the same in 1986?

Then it happened. It may not have played out exactly as I remember it, but the sentiment is what matters. A slick Down move saw Peter Withnall put clear through on Charlie Nelligan and he smashed the ball to the net with aplomb. Suddenly Down were in a winning position and they never faltered in the remaining time, belief that they would do it coursing through every action. Watching it at home, I was gobsmacked. A minnow could put it up to one of the kingpins of Gaelic games and succeed.

Five weeks later Down were back in Croke Park against the evil Meed, and it was clear they meant business. The sea of red and black that rippled across Hill 16 was utterly inspirational, one Tricolour-wielding fool only slightly marring the beauty. Down duly shot down Meath, even withstanding one of those famous zombie-like comebacks. For the first time in my lifetime, a team who had no expectation at the start of the year to winning the All-Ireland had won the All-Ireland.

A year later another county would unexpectedly taste success.  I genuinely don’t think this is a coincidence. Could Donegal and Derry have won Sam Maguire if Down had not shown them the way? And why should such a transmission of belief stop at the Ulster border? Since then, I’ve always had a soft spot for Down. They showed the rest of the GAA world that it could be done. And more importantly, they showed me that it could be done, something has sustained me to this day.

Counties That I Don’t Hate – Down

(No 2 in a series of 2)

Picture it. Waterford. 1991. Since we had won our first ever title in 1929, we had managed to win something – anything – in every decade. Until the 1980’s, that is, when we had not only won nothing but had plumbed the depths of Division Three hurling and been massacred in our three Munster final appearances. We’d even had the privilege of watching the team implode live on national television in the 1989 final. Not a good time to be following the Déise.

The 80’s had been a grim time for the GAA. An All-Ireland hurling semi-final had been attended by a mere nine thousand souls (Galway – Cork in 1985) and the Ulster and Connacht football championships were utterly bankrupt – the champions of those provinces had not beaten a team from Leinster or Munster since Galway in 1973. It’s hard to sustain interest in a sport when there is so little competition among all teams in general and from your own in particular. Add in the thrill of Italia ’90, and people were asking in all seriousness where the GAA was to go from here.

The first step in the rehabilitation of the GAA came from Meath, or specifically the sensational clash between Meath and Dublin in the 1991 Leinster championship that captured the imagination of a nation. It was so all-consuming that even my mother sat down to watch the fourth and decisive match. I had developed a loathing of the Royal County in the preceding years, fuelled by paternal links with Cork and the cast of, er, characters that populated Sean Boylan’s team. Every match you’d watch hoping they’d trip up, every time they’d sail close to the wind, and every time they’d squeeze through. They were behind for most of the semi-final against Roscommon but with a mixture of grit, nerve and (I can admit this nearly 20 years on) talent, they were ahead at the finish. Another failure from the Connacht crew. It was galling, and all the more compelling for that.

Meanwhile in the other half of the draw, Kerry had sucker-punched a previously dominant Cork to come out of Munster. No one was thinking they were world beaters – the hiding they had taken in the 1990 final and the less-than-stellar manner in which they had disposed of Limerick saw to that – but they were still Kerry, right? Yes, they were and while Down had a cute record of never having lost to Kerry in the championship, they were still from Ulster and thus were going to fill their appointed role as the Munster team’s bitch. Even leading for much of the game did not change that. Had Tyrone not done the same in 1986?

Then it happened. It may not have played out exactly as I remember it, but the sentiment is what matters. A slick Down move saw Peter Withnall put clear through on Charlie Nelligan and he smashed the ball to the net with aplomb. Suddenly Down were in a winning position and they never faltered in the remaining time, belief that they would do it coursing through every action. Watching it at home, I was gobsmacked. A minnow could put it up to one of the kingpins of Gaelic games and succeed.

Five weeks later Down were back in Croke Park against the evil Meed, and it was clear they meant business. The sea of red and black that rippled across Hill 16 was utterly inspirational, one Tricolour-wielding fool only slightly marring the beauty. Down duly shot down Meath, even withstanding one of those famous zombie-like comebacks. For the first time in my lifetime, a team who had no expectation at the start of the year to winning the All-Ireland had won the All-Ireland.

A year later another county would unexpectedly taste success.  I genuinely don’t think this is a coincidence. Could Donegal and Derry have won Sam Maguire if Down had not shown them the way? And why should such a transmission of belief stop at the Ulster border? Since then, I’ve always had a soft spot for Down. They showed the rest of the GAA world that it could be done. And more importantly, they showed me that it could be done, something has sustained me to this day.

Summertime blues

Kicking people when they are down is never nice, but it’s doubtful that anyone is kicking themselves harder at the moment than the Waterford footballers. For years in both League and Championship we were grateful to Kilkenny for keeping us from the very bottom of the pile. Then something curious happened in 2008. Waterford put together a few wins in the League. All other things being equal, Waterford would have been promoted from Division 4 but for a last minute Tipperary goal. Now, all other thing are not equal and it is unlikely Waterford would have played with the same amount of joie de vivre that saw them beat Antrim in the last round had promotion been at stake. But it was clearly an improvement, and it’s been matched by some excellent performances this year in the League.

To recap: in the League we can compete with Tipperary, now a Division 2 side, and Antrim, this year’s Ulster finalists. So why do things go so badly wrong in the Championship? In 2008 we lost to Clare who had finished way down Division 4 and beaten in the 2007 Munster championship. This year saw a limp performance against Cork followed by a massacre from a Meath team who haven’t being pulling up trees recently. Why do things go wrong? Buggered if I know, but something clearly ain’t right.

Be careful what you wish for

The question of whether the back door is harmful for the provincial champions is one constantly bandied about. Opponents of the back door will point in recent times to Armagh’s experience, champions of Ulster in four of the last five years and yet not even a final appearance to show for it in the main event. They’ve also seen Sam carried off by three back door teams, most gallingly seeing Tyrone do it in 2005 and 2008. So it will be interesting to see how they react to today’s football qualifier draw, which has seen Armagh draw the utter stinker of Monaghan away. And God knows what hand grenade awaits them in the next phase should they overcome Monaghan. With Tyrone looking forward to the winners of Cavan and Antrim, no prizes for guessing which is the happier county at the moment.

This debate also has its hurling counterpart, and the fate of Clare should provide a sharp counterpoint. The same people who think the back door is an easier router to the McCarthy Cup would no doubt be suggesting that Clare would be pleased to lose to Tipperary today. Having given a fine performance that would have shaken off any post-League blues, they could now look forward to a serene trip through the qualifiers. Then out come the one team that seem to be able to routinely put it up to Kilkenny. At least they’ll have home advantage, but Tipp have a Munster final to look forward to and still have their get-out-of-jail-free card.

Things could be worse for Clare. There are more middling-to-bad teams in the football qualifiers than good ones, so the odds should have been in Waterford’s favour to have a decent draw. Despite their recent decline, Meath are not ideal opponents, especially away from home. After being put in the same half of the draw in Munster as Kerry and Cork, Waterford might ponder that if it weren’t for bad luck they’d have no luck at all.