Before I go on to comment about last Sunday’s game in Letterkenny, it has become clear to me and indeed many others who watch Gaelic football week in, week out, that there is something not very clear about what is going on.
One week you get a black card for a certain foul; the next week you don’t. You could actually come to the conclusion that there might not be two match officials in the entire country who implement the rule in the same way.
So I looked up the rule wondering if there was something very confusing or indeed difficult in the explanation of the rule. The black card was introduced to stop cynical behaviour fouls. The rule states that a black card will be issued for the following fouls: The deliberate body check or collision of an opponent; the deliberate trip or pull down with the hand, arm or foot of an opponent; abusive or provocative language or gesture to an opponent or team mate and last, but not least, to remonstrate with match officials in an aggressive manner; that’s it.
To be fair it sounds very clear and you could wonder why after nearly every game we have to listen to constant arguments about players that should have got a black card and those who got one that shouldn’t have. It's happening every week and in nearly every game. It’s relentless and no one seems to be able to address the frustration that is clearly ruining the game for those playing and watching.
Last Sunday in Letterkenny Padraig Hughes, who I would regard as one of the better referees in the country, did not let anything go. He blew for every bit of slight contact; he let nothing develop. Maybe it was because of what happened in Tralee or maybe that is just the way he likes to keep control the game but it reduced the game as a spectacle and at times as a physical contest.
I am not having a go at any referee; I wouldn’t do the job and as I have said too often in the past that the rules of the game do not make their job any easier. If you look at the black card rule you could give one out for every tackle. It paints a bad picture for the game that nearly every week we are talking about match officials and their decisions more than we are talking about the games themselves.
As the game has changed over the years the rules have not. We have added to the referees' woes by introducing more rather than making the officiating of the game easier. Soon we will take in the 'mark', another rule that will have endless different interpretations and cause another storm. What are we at? We should be making their job easier or are we happier when we have someone to blame when we lose or things don’t go our way.
What’s missing most is a bit of common sense; sadly it’s not that common. On last Sunday’s game it was as if we never got out of the traps early on. We let Roscommon dictate the pace of the game early on and far too often they got too much time and space in front of goal to take scores. We were wide open and could have easily conceded two or three goals in the first half; there was very little cover for the full-back line.
I know it’s the team management's idea to play a fairly attacking style and that’s fine as long as the ball goes dead when you’re in attack but far too often last Sunday our attacks broke down and they hit us on the break. Even when we got men behind the ball they were patient and waited for us to be drawn out and then they picked us off with some nice scores and fairly direct play. They are well coached and they have a sound game plan but they are not Dublin or Kerry and they made us look extremely ordinary.
The events of the previous weekend in Kerry affected the manner in which we approached the game may have been a factor. We did not start with the usual intensity that we have become used to. We left a lot of gaps at the back and going forward we were ponderous and slow to deliver the ball inside to the scoring forwards. We carried the ball far too much allowing them the opportunity to get numbers behind the ball and close down the space.
When we needed goals near the end we hit Murphy a few times and they couldn’t handle him and while I agree that there has to be more about your game that just hitting long ball into the full forward line, we need to do things quicker. The ball at times goes through too many hands before it’s even close to the scoring area.
At the end of the day it’s only a league game but we need to address the negatives in order to learn and move forward. Among the many positives was the return of Karl Lacey; the impact of Christy Toye from the bench; the performance of Eoin Mc Hugh, Eoghan 'Ban' Gallagher and Michael Murphy, who was excellent once again. I have no doubt Rory and the rest of the Donegal management will use the defeat to focus the lads for the game with Dublin under the lights of Croke Park on Saturday week. If we are to make the semi-finals of the league we need another win; why not in their own back garden.