Tony and Manus Boyle pictured at the launch of 'History Makers', the Donegal Democrat book commemorating the 1992 All-Ireland
Waterford haven’t won the Liam McCarthy cup for 58 years. They have, over the years, done everything possible to get their hands on the coveted prize. Beaten earlier on in the Munster championship, they had to go the scenic route to get another chance, beating Kilkenny along the way.
Last Sunday they overcame Cork in a titanic battle to reach next month’s decider with Galway. In the closing minutes of the Cork game Waterford’s wing back Conor Gleeson got into an altercation with Cork’s Patrick Horgan. It happens when the game is over; players, especially those on the losing side, get frustrated and things happen. Gleeson along with Horgan got a straight red card which puts him out of the All-Ireland final. To add insult to injury the Sunday Game panel brought attention to an altercation between last year’s hurler of the year Austin Gleeson and Cork’s Luke Meade. Gleeson appeared to have pulled on and removed Meade’s helmet, which if deemed intentional, is regarded as a straight red in hurling which would also rule Austin out of the All-Ireland final.
At the time of writing this column Austin Gleeson looks to have escaped punishment but we must look at the way these incidents are being played out on TV analysis.
On The Sunday Game Eddie Brennan, Brendan Cummins and former Dublin manager Anthony Daly were clear that it didn’t look great for the Waterford star. While all three of the pundits said that they wouldn’t want to see any player miss out on playing in an All-Ireland final they felt officials will have another look at the incident and make a judgment.
There is also the added pressure that one of the Galway lads was under the same microscope after their semi-final win over Tipperary. The Sunday Game panel also adjudged Adrian Tuohy to have tugged at the helmet of Patrick Bonnar, but the Galway player is free to play in the final after officials cleared him of any wrongdoing.
A lot has been made of incidents in games throughout both the football and hurling championship where incidents were missed by match officials but were put under the microscope of the television cameras. Much was made of the Diarmuid Connolly incident where the Dublin player received 12 weeks for interference with a match official. Three other players also got the same suspension; one was extremely debatable were a Louth player, kicking a ball back to the opposition goalkeeper, hit the umpire with the ball. It was deemed intentional; he got 12 weeks. Again it was highlighted by the Sunday Game.
Brian Cody, the Kilkenny manager, placed both hands on the linesman, under the spotlight of the cameras. Michael Duignan, the former Offaly hurler, believed Cody meant nothing by it. Cody received no suspension.
My point would be that on none of the other occasions where a player was involved did any pundit even suggest that there were no malice involved and no suspension should follow. Why? What’s the difference in a manager or a player either intentionally or not interfering with a match official? Where do you draw the difference? How do you tell the difference?
If the GAA decide to convict or clear players on television evidence then it should be on their terms. They should set up their own committee to review every game, in the same way the rugby do it. It should not be down to the national broadcaster or a number of pundits to do the dirty work for them. By doing it themselves they would take away any doubt that individuals are not just settling old scores or setting out their own agenda on a television programme.
This year has been no different than any other year. It’s impossible for match officials to get every decision spot on. It’s unfair to expect them to get everything right when you consider the pace of the games and the physical contact, especially in hurling.
While there is no problem drawing attention to any incident, the problem clearly is that it’s not done across the board; it’s only what the camera catches. Thus while someone may be guilty of foul play that the referee might have missed, if the camera catches it he gets suspended; if the camera doesn’t catch it, he gets away with it, so it’s not conclusive.
Again, I go back to a question I asked earlier - how do you know if it’s intentional or not? Should it make any difference to the referee’s decision? Are the rules of the game that sketchy? There certainly should be no difference when it comes to interference with a match official or indeed the helmet of an opposing player.
In the last decade or so we have added so many layers of rules and placed heavier burdens on those who officiate at our games that we could question every decision they make. The black card is all over the place because it is open to interpretation. How many cases have been overturned in the last five years? Even this year. It undermines not only those that officiate at the games but the rules themselves.
Would it not be easier just to define the rules in a simple and transparent way and make it easier to referee? It would stop television programmes becoming the main topic of our conversation rather than the games themselves. It would also make it easier for people to even consider getting involved in a refereeing career when the have finished playing the game.
The GAA need to get their own structures in place to deal with any incidents, just like the citing officer in rugby, and not be using the national broadcaster to adjudicate.
I hope both Gleesons get to play in the All-Ireland final, not because they get off on some technicality or another but because they may never get the chance to play in another one and their hard work, commitment and endeavour deserve it.