Ref justice has to fit the crime
Listening to supporters of Cavan and Fermanagh after last Saturday's round two qualifier in Kingspan Breffni Park, it was clear that they shared the same frustration over the performance of referee Michael Duffy.
Lest anyone be accused of showing undue favouritism to their own county, let me state at the outset that Cavan played a better style of football and wholly deserved their two victories, the first coming last month.
Their personnel and their management team are serious operators and good luck to them.
It is not up to Cavan to deal with the modern ills of the game, it is the referee's responsibility, so bear that in mind before you read on.
On Saturday night, Fermanagh forward Sean Quigley was subjected to off-the-ball hits and a constant flow of verbal abuse.
Cavan are not alone in this practice – it is now widespread and designed to provoke a reaction. And as soon as it comes, players will scream at referees and linesmen to send the offender off.
Some players have already admitted their role in such actions. It is not a media creation.
At half-time as Quigley was leaving the field, two players jolted into him. He pushed one back before Cian Mackey sprinted towards him. In the 'fight-or-flight' moment, Quigley put up his right fist. Was it a punch? Debatable. But he was then shoved and roughed up by a member of the Cavan backroom team.
A melee broke out. In the middle of it, a lot of proper punches were thrown. That is a fact.
After half-time, Quigley was red-carded. Cavan selector Anthony Forde was sent to the stand, which basically involved stepping back two yards and standing behind a railing while the Fermanagh water-carrier Lorcan Martin also was dealt the same fate.
Cavan captain Alan Clarke gave an interview after the game that came straight from the handbook of 'nothing to see here, move along now'.
"It was a lot of pushing and shoving," he correctly said. "That's all," he incorrectly added. "It can be built up, but it doesn't take much these days to get a yellow card. You don't have to hit a lad. All you've got to do is pull his jersey."
Hard to see the point he is making here, as a jersey pull is not always a simple jersey pull; in some cases it can be a jersey pull in a particular area of the field that prevents a scoring chance. It is cheating and therefore it should be punished by a yellow card.
He continued: "There is a lot of rubbish talked about the amount of dirt in the game but there is no physicality in the game. The referees are taking the physicality out of the game."
That's a generalisation in which he does not address what we are considering here – out and out cynicism – but the handling of Saturday's game by Michael Duffy was a style we can only describe as 'highly-strung.'
Players from both sides felt he veered into 'drama-queen' territory, patronising them and taking a high-handed approach.
Ask any player for their favourite referee of the last 20 years and the chances are that outside of Mayo, most will say Pat McEnaney.
His earthy style, ability to communicate with players and explain his decisions were his strengths.
In his role as Chairman of the National Referees' Association, the hope was that he would spawn a few clones. We are still waiting.
In today's game, players are remorselessly targeted until they react. In the Donegal v Tyrone game in late May, Joe McMahon won a free, yet his leg was held by Ross Wherity, preventing him from getting up. He kicked his leg out in frustration and was issued a second yellow card.
These things work both ways. In the 2007 Ulster Championship semi-final between these sides, Colm McFadden was bottled up and a free was awarded against him. Tyrone forward Brian Dooher attempted to wrestle the ball from him and snarled into his face.
McFadden's reaction was manifest frustration and he caught Dooher with a beautiful right cross on his chin. Referee David Coldrick did not approve though and issued a straight red card.
There is too much talk of 'handbags' and 'pushing and shoving' when the reality is that this is nasty, horrible behaviour. There is too much wallowing in our own self-regard because our players shake hands after the game; as if some events of the 70-plus minutes never happened.
We are suffering from an acute lack of sportsmanship. The GAA can produce the most wonderful scenes of heartfelt joy but it can also suffer from smugness.
Right now we have a problem with cheating. Over to you, Pat.