Did Mayo pull a fast one on Donegal?
That is a question that was being asked on Sunday evening last after Donegal returned home from Elverys MacHale Park, Castlebar with mixed emotions.
They had watched two Donegals - a dominant and free-flowing one in the opening half as they ran Mayo ragged, but then with the wind at their backs, they seemed to tire and weren’t able to break a Mayo midfield stranglehold.
The introduction of Aidan O’Shea was a factor also as he bulldozed his way around the field to cause mayhem. Donegal reacted but they didn’t have the physical firepower to match Mayo. As a result, they lost their focus - and discipline - and Mayo, despite looking an average side, were able to close the four point gap which Donegal had built up and eventually get over the line with a litany of frees, three of which were moved on due to dissent, to make it almost impossible for Cillian O’Connor to miss.
There is no doubt that Aidan O’Shea was sent on to bully Michael Murphy, legally and illegally. Donegal can make excuses and try to blame referee, Cormac Reilly, but they would be better to look within. The Meath referee may have been under pressure because of his history with Mayo from the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final replay against Kerry in Limerick, but it wasn’t until Donegal lost their focus, that they could have any complaints.
Apart from the penalty award, Mayo had just one other free in the opening half. After the shemozzle around the 52nd minute, Donegal then lost Eamonn Doherty to a red card, and the referee turned on them when they complained. The St. Eunan’s man may be a little unlucky to get a red, but when looked at coldly, he made it easy for the referee by lifting his leg. It was a similar story with the penalty, with the needless challenge making it easy for the referee to make the call.
Donegal were dragged into a battle and in front of a partisan home crowd; that was a mistake. It seems to be a recurring thing with Donegal, getting involved in these pushing and shoving games. There are fines hanging over them from the Cavan and Tyrone games and it will be a surprise of there is not another for Donegal and Mayo after Sunday.
Is there another aspect of rugby that should be taken on board by the GAA? Should the captain be the only player from either side who communicates with the referee? It would cut out this unseemly and repetitive reaction of players questioning the referee and giving him advice throughout games.
Unless you are an experienced communicator like Eamon McGee, then keeping focus and also giving ‘advice’ at the same time can be self defeating. On Sunday, Cormac Reilly was under pressure before he even blew the first whistle. Donegal needed to be ‘smarter’. In the end they made it too easy for the Meath man.
And what about the heading on the top of this piece? Was there something sinister in the throw-in being put back 10 minutes on Sunday? There didn’t seem to be an awful backlog, but the delay gave Mayo an advantage of knowing what they had to do to survive in Division One by tracking what was happening between Roscommon and Cavan.
Surely there is an onus on Croke Park to ensure that all games on the final day start at the same time.
Also, at the end of the game, a Mayo official opened the gates to allow an invasion of kids on to the field, despite the fact that the final whistle had not been sounded. There was some 30 seconds at least left, but referee Cormac Reilly then decided to call a halt.
It was another talking point.
Money back guarantee
There were plenty of talking points in Enniskillen last week also as the Donegal v Cavan Ulster U-21 semi-final was called off just 30 minutes before throw-in. By that stage quite a number of spectators had already entered the ground, and when the announcement was made that the pitch was unplayable, there was confusion and anger. Patrons had paid their way into the ground and they had to queue for a ticket for the replay. There was another queue if you wanted a refund
However, at that stage some people were just entering the ground and with gates open, they could enter without paying. It was pandemonium.
The GAA just don’t have a Plan A or Plan B for a situation like this. Patrons entering the ground buy a ticket and hand that in at a turnstile, but they get no receipt, so they have no proof that they paid.
When I was entering the car park at 7.05 p.m., the steward advised me to stay in my car as the game was unlikely to go ahead. He said that one inspection had taken place, and a second was due around 7.30 p.m. Surely if that was the case at that stage, it would have been better to keep the turnstiles closed until the second inspection was held.
The other lesson to be learned is that some form of ticketing that would give patrons a stub or receipt would make dealing with a late postponement much more controlled.
But, even more importantly, earlier inspections and decisions around postponements need to be introduced. The car beside me in the car park had just come from Gaoth Dobhair. It’s an awful long journey to make on a Wednesday evening to be turned around and sent home again.
Not very professional!
‘Gooch’ bids farewell
It helps being born in Kerry, if you have a talent for Gaelic football. Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper had that talent, sheer poetry in motion. His skill level, balance and timing had few equals. But what made him (and other greats of Gaelic Games) stand out was his contribution as a team member, not just as an individual.
That is what the great players bring. It is always hard to make comparisons. Imagine if Michael Murphy had been born in Kerry; or Peter Canavan or Declan Browne . . . you could go on.
We have been privileged, though, to have seen Cooper perform, with his two feet and every shimmy you could imagine. When former Kerry players like Jack O’Shea and Marc O Se are saying he is the best forward ever to represent the county, it’s hard to argue with that.