Most championship matches now embrace in excess of 70 minutes of frenetic, non-stop action. The passion and endeavour of the players is invariably complemented by the zeal and fervour of the fans with controversy never too far away.
Yet although games can become extended for a variety of reasons, the outcome can often hinge on one split-second decision by a referee.
We had two such instances last weekend, the ramifications of which have still to be fully felt.
When Syl Doyle disallowed what to me seemed a perfectly legitimate goal by Graham Geraghty for Meath he not only temporarily robbed Seamus McEnaney’s side of their momentum — the goal had it stood would have trimmed Kildare’s advantage to just one point at a vital stage of the game — he also triggered renewed calls for the introduction of the Hawk Eye technology to help adjudicate on the legality of scores.
And when Cormac Reilly dismissed Monaghan skipper Dick Clerkin in the 29th minute of his team’s encounter with Tyrone in the Ulster Championship at Healy Park he acted in haste and is now repenting at leisure. Reilly, lauded for his efficiency in the Armagh v Down match a week earlier, compounded what for him was a singularly bad day at the office in Omagh by allegedly making what has since been diplomatically termed an “inappropriate remark” to Monaghan player Darren Hughes.
Hughes has so far refused to articulate precisely what the referee said but we can presume that it did not amount to a cordial greeting. It would be untrue to state that these two decisions made by Doyle and Reilly actually cost Meath and Monaghan respectively their chances of remaining in the hunt for their respective provincial titles this year.
But they undoubtedly influenced the outcome of the games to a large extent when all the circumstances are taken into account.
Geraghty had only entered the Croke Park action as a substitute when he fisted a long, high ball to the Kildare net.
But as he wheeled away in celebration he was stunned to see Doyle consult his umpires and rule the score out.
When it was subsequently confirmed that the umpires included a son and brother of Doyle, Meath’s ire, if anything, increased considerably.
Not surprisingly, there have been more calls for the GAA to contemplate the introduction of the Hawk Eye score-detection technology in a bid to eradicate ongoing controversies.
In the aftermath of last year’s Leinster final when Tyrone referee Martin Sludden allowed Joe Sheridan’s ‘goal’ to stand for Meath even though it was patently clear he had thrown the ball into the Louth net in full view of the onlooking umpires, the GAA decided that umpires would undergo tests in advance of this year’s championship.
GAA President Christy Cooney confirmed that these tests had taken place in advance of the championship but there was certainly very little evidence on offer at Croke Park that the tests have reaped the anticipated dividends.
Umpires can play very important roles in games and it’s time that the bar was raised in terms of what is expected from them.
If Meath feel aggrieved — although there is more than a hint of the ‘what goes around comes around’ mantra in the air — Monaghan too have justifiable cause for hand-wringing.
It was certainly scant consolation to the Farney County faithful that television replays confirmed that their skipper Clerkin had merely stood his ground without employing the slightest hint of malice or cynicism thus preventing Sean Cavanagh from rounding him.
Cavanagh ended up on the ground thus making the challenge appear rather more sinister. Clerkin looked distraught as he exited the playing arena and I must say there was considerable sympathy for him.
He had suffered a yellow card two minutes beforehand thereby making his red card inevitable. Yet it was a harsh decision in a match in which some other incidents went unpunished.
And that’s why Monaghan players, officials and fans were so frustrated at the finish, believing they could have won.
That’s conjecture of course. What is solid fact is that Reilly failed to take all the circumstances into account before making his decision — and this should be a lesson to his colleagues as the championship hots up.