What is it about a team when they get a man sent off?
On how many occasions have we seen a team who are not playing well, lose a player and then come to life?
Naomh Conaill had one of those moments last weekend in the Donegal Senior Championship Final. When young Eoghan McGettigan got sent off after only coming on to the field, Naomh Conaill were struggling. There was a lot of pushing and shoving and it was hard to see what went on. But one thing was certain, it had a positive effect on Glenties.
St. Eunan’s had a fair bit of the play for the first 40 minutes without ever pulling away. They were playing well within themselves but could have had a couple of goals. The crossbar came to Naomh Conaill’s aid in the first half and some good defending stopped Rory Kavanagh from hitting the net with the Letterkenny side up by two.
Naomh Conaill started to play a bit after that. The introduction of fresh legs and the loss of the man coincided with them coming to life. Anthony Thompson, who had played in a very withdrawn role up until the sending off, pushed up and started to get involved. Leo McLoone began to get his hands on the ball and his intelligent use of possession allowed the younger lads to get on the ball and run at the St Eunan’s defence.
Naomh Conaill used their bench well. The introduction of Johnny McLoone, who scored a great point, also helped. His presence allowed Leo and Ciaran Thompson to go forward more and as they pressed St Eunan’s high up the field.
The Letterkenny side were unable to get the freedom and attacking opportunities that they had early on. When they did get in to the Naomh Conaill half in the last five minutes, they lacked that usual self-assurance that we have seen in the past few years. They panicked a bit and to be fair to Naomh Conaill, they showed great discipline in the tackl,e making sure not to give away an easy free.
St. Eunan’s will wonder how this one got away. They failed to reach the same levels they achieved against St Michaels and Glenswilly in the previous championship games. They struggled to take their chances and you would have to wonder if the defeat to Naomh Conaill in the group stages played on the minds of the St. Eunan’s players, especially the younger, less experienced lads.
To be fair, it would be wrong to suggest that Naomh Conaill won the game because St. Eunan’s were not at their best. Naomh Conaill fought for every ball. They didn’t give up any possession easily and made St Eunan’s work for everything they got. Naomh Conaill have in the last few years built a strong squad. Their underage success has enabled them to bring on a lot of good young players, giving them plenty of options from the bench. Their use of their substitutes was excellent and was probably the main reason why they got over the line at the end.
While certain players did stand out, I thought their overall team performance was excellent throughout. Naomh Conaill now have another opportunity to have a go at the Ulster club championship. They have a great squad to pick from and have plenty of players who have the experience needed at that level to make the difference.
One of the main talking points to come out of the game was the disallowed goal in the second half. I am not so sure that many of the referees, both at club and inter county level, have grasped the advantage rule just yet. Most teams have reliable free-takers these days, so I believe that when they get a free inside the opposition’s ‘45, most teams would rather have the free.
And how long does the advantage last for? I have seen referees go back to the incident after ten, fifteen seconds. Others don’t. If the player who has been fouled takes a shot, even under pressure, and he misses, some referees refuse to go back to the incident.
Again it goes back to the inconsistencies that annoy all those involved. While the rule is clear in the official guide, for one reason or another, match officials feel the need to put their own spin on it.
If there is one thing that the Rugby World Cup has taken to the fore, it’s the use of modern technology.
The T.M.O. has cut out the kind of mistakes that in the past, have cost teams. Whether or not it takes away from the game, it makes sure that teams cannot use the performance of the match official as an excuse.
Could it be a runner in Gaelic Games? At inter county level I think it could solve a lot of the problems that were persistent in last year’s championship. It would cut out a lot of the trivial and negative debate that surrounds Gaelic football at the minute.
Would it slow down the game? It probably would, but only by seconds, and it would be worth it to make sure that the right decisions are made.
It would be a huge help to referees who are the brunt of so much criticism. While there will be many who believe it might take away from the game for traditional reasons, the fact is we have to move on whether we like it or not or we will be left behind.
We can’t hold back the game just because of the past or some romantic idea.
It’s time to move on and embrace the future.