Kevin McStay got it spot on a few weeks back when discussing refereeing standards in his Mayo News column. What he said you needed to watch for were the big decisions because the better refs tended to get those big calls right. On that basis, Mr M Duffy from Sligo is not one of the game's better refs as he got a big decision late on in yesterday's Munster football final horribly wrong.
An enthralling battle between Kerry and Cork at Fitzgerald stadium was all-square with just a couple of minutes left when a slick Cork move resulted in midfielder Derek Kavanagh being put through clear on goal. As he shaped to bury the ball in the net, Tomas O Se yanked his jersey from behind, unbalancing the Corkman who blasted his shot wide. It was as clear a penalty as you could ever hope to see but Mr Duffy (who had earlier on overruled his umpires and disallowed a Cork point, simply because Kerry goalie Diarmuid Murphy had a blue hissy fit when the white flag went up) saw nothing wrong. Kerry promptly went up the other end and scored two stonking long-range points - the first from Kieran Donaghy, the second from sub Sean O'Sullivan - to seal their first Munster title at this famous old ground since 1986. While the ref didn't win it for Kerry - they did that themselves with those two superbly-taken points - had he got that crucial decision at the other end just beforehand right, Cork would almost certainly have been a goal up with seconds to go. They wouldn't have lost it from there.
Still, Billy Morgan won't be too unhappy as his side matched the All-Ireland champions pretty well throughout the field and showed that they're likely to be a force to be reckoned with in the All-Ireland series. Fifteen minutes into the second half, when they trailed by six points, it looked as if Cork were going to take a beating but the inspired Donncha O'Connor scored a superb goal to haul them back into contention and with time running out it looked more likely that the visitors would prevail. They would have too, had our Sligo friend been up with the action a bit better.
Kerry looked solid enough yesterday, given that it's only the start of July. They've often looked in wretched form at this time of year (two examples - 2004 and 2006 - will suffice to prove this point) whereas yesterday they looked well up to speed and as hungry for success as ever. It's in the forwards that they look most impressive - Donaghy is obviously back in form, Declan O' Sullivan was everywhere, Mike Frank did bugger all from play but kicked some superb dead balls and the Gooch sonambulated through the first half before opening up to devastating effect in the second. His goal demonstrated pure economy of movement as he fielded the ball, swivelled and buried it. The Carrot-Headed Assassin clearly hasn't gone away, you know.
Who else was there? Oh yes, that gimp Galvin, who - true to form - was involved in a right old belting match with Cork's Noel O'Leary (who, in fariness, should have been red-carded for kicking Galvin in the first half but then maybe there's a secret dispensation within the rules for kicking Galvin, seeing as everyone outside Kerry would happily spend a few hours every day at such a pursuit) and whom Pat O'Shea wisely called ashore in the second half when it was becoming clear that he was unlikely to stay on the field much longer.
While Kerry look good in the forwards, midfield wasn't hectic - that lumbering hulk Quirke didn't do a whole deal and Darragh O Se was under severe pressure to cope with the excellent Derek Kavanagh and Nicholas Murphy. When Michael Cussen switched out there in the second half, he ensured that Cork continued to win more than their fair share of ball round the middle. Kerry also look weakish at centre-back and full-back, with Aidan O'Mahony and Tom O'Sullivan struggling somewhat to fill the illustrious shoes of Seamus Moynihan and Mike McCarthy. I think if Tyrone rip into those Kerry backs the way you'd expect them to, the 2003 and 2005 champions could well be celebrating the continuation of this geometric series in 2007.
The other problem for Kerry is the one relating to Winner's Curse, which sees them now kicking their heels for six whole weeks before the All-Ireland quarter-finals. Cork, in contrast, are back in action in three weeks time and the narrow defeat they suffered yesterday shouldn't cause too much psychological damage to them. We haven't seen the last of the Leesiders this year, I reckon.
Elsewhere yesterday, Laois came from four points down at half-time to see off Wexford in the Leinster football semi-final at Croker. Here too, a hotly-disputed refereeing decision turned the tide. Once Wexford's centre-back David Murphy went on a second yellow with twenty minutes to go, Laois began to take command but they made hard work of it, shooting 18 wides in total (and they say Mayo can't shoot straight!) in a match they eventually won by a goal. Laois got murdered by the Dubs in the Leinster semi-final last year and, on yesterday's performance, they'll do well to avoid a similar fate this year.
And so to the mighty Mayo ladies, who continue to upstage their male counterparts. Yesterday at Salthill, we had no election-distracted manager, no early defensive collapse and no headless-chicken approach in attack. Instead, another gutsy performance for the Green and Red as the girls pulled off a one-point win after extra time over defending champions Galway in the Connacht decider. They now go forward to the new mini-league All-Ireland series, where, once again, they'll be serious contenders for outright victory.
There's no word as yet on the chaps but with only six days to go now till we face the Cavan Bucks, we should be getting some news within the next few days on the team that'll line out at McHale Park on Saturday evening.