The U21s were well beaten by Laois in their All-Ireland semi-final yesterday at Hyde Park but it wasn’t just their own muted display - allied to a gutsy Laois performance - that led to the downfall of the reigning All-Ireland champions. I know I keep banging on about referees (and will bang on some more in a bit) but I thought that yesterday’s performance – by some geezer by the name of Sludden from Tyrone – was one of the most awful and one-sided displays I think I’ve ever seen from a Gaelic ref.
He had an odd take on the rules, preventing any kind of challenge being made on the man in possession but then doing bugger all about all the after-the-ball stuff. He was fussy in the extreme, issuing yellow cards right throughout the first half for a series of nothing challenges and it was notable that the vast majority of them were brandished at Mayo lads. It was obvious that if he kept to the same approach in the second half, someone was going to walk the plank and the share-out of first half cards made it very likely that the someone doing the walking would be in our colours. So it came to pass: wing-back Colm Boyle got his marching orders shortly after the restart for a second yellow and, from then on, it was always going to be a big ask for us to stay in the game.
Disaster then struck soon after this when Barry Moran went down heavily on his ankle and had to be stretchered off. With him went any lingering hopes of success and although Laois missed a penalty a few minutes later – television replays showing clearly that the ref had got this decision wrong too – they proceeded to tack on a number of well-taken points to win quite comfortably in the end, on an 0-11 to 0-6 scoreline.
Would we have lost if (a) a monkey or (b) a vaguely competent ref was officiating? I’m not sure but it would have been nice to test the proposition. I suspect we might still have lost, as Laois looked solid all over the field. At the back they won most of the long ball we sent into the sector, they controlled the midfield area for most of the day and their forwards – especially MOTM Michael Tierney and Donie Breenan (who played against us for the seniors last year) – were sharp and nippy. We looked flat and a few yards off the pace by comparison and looked anything like All-Ireland champions at the finish.
I spent most of the game fulminating (though that wasn’t the ‘f’ word I was using at the time) at the ref but, later in the evening, as I began to mellow and start thinking about the meaning of life and all that, I mused about how crucial decisions by referees can swing matches in a particular direction. That was certainly the case yesterday but, let’s be honest, it was also true of last year’s U21 All-Ireland final when another quixotic refereeing performance turned the match decisively in our favour with the award of a very dubious penalty from which the decisive goal was scored. Bad refs give and bad refs take away, in other words.
Final thought on Gaelic refs. Is it possible, I mean really possible, to ref a Gaelic match properly? I cannot recall the last time I saw a refereeing performance that I would have said was both sensible and competent but they can’t all be clueless idiots or can they? Comments, anyone?
Enough about yesterday, we have larger fish to fry today at Croker. I’ve little more to add to yesterday’s post except to reiterate the point that we need a committed performance for the full 70 minutes today if we’re to win our 12th NFL title. Donegal are no Kerry in September but they do have a number of strong, wily performers in their ranks, the kind of guys who could well do damage if they get the opportunity. We could do with a positive start and it would obviously set us up nicely for the Galway match if today we could manage to put in our best performance to date of the NFL campaign. If we do this, it should be good enough to secure a win today as well.
I’ll be back at some stage tomorrow with the usual post-match mixture of words and amateur video clips of the action from Croker. I’m not sure how much of it I’ll manage to capture on video today: it is a final, after all, and I don’t think I’ll be able to stay detached enough to film all the key moments. I can envisage plenty of jumping up and down today and more than a bit of fulminating as well. I can also envisage myself hurling the camera in disgust in the general direction of the ref at some point during the proceedings. And, if we win, I might even have one or two later on so the video uploading might have to wait till some point on Monday morning. Till then.