Joe Kernan: Time to replay ruling to see bigger picture
Not so long ago the notion of extra-time in a major GAA match was an alien concept. Indeed, for many years now painstaking care has been exercised when fixtures are being drawn up by the relevant bodies at national and provincial level to ensure that adequate provision is made for replay arrangements.
Quite recently, though, it was decided, because of fixture congestion and to allow club programmes to function more smoothly, that extra-time should be played in the important championship matches up to provincial semi-final level.
While this idea appeared to be widely welcomed initially, it’s not a move with which I have been entirely comfortable. And I now have further reservations following the events of last weekend when three major games — Cork v Kerry, Meath v Laois and Dublin v Wexford — were deadlocked at the end of normal time.
Cork and Kerry had finished level in their first meeting, but because this was a semi-final extra-time was not played and a replay was arranged. Yet even at the end of normal time in episode two the teams were inseparable and extra-time eventually saw Kerry proceed.
Ironically, Meath and Laois could not settle their differences after 80-odd minutes of play and will now meet again on Saturday in Tullamore while Dublin managed to overcome Wexford during extra-time at Croke Park.
Yet while extra-time is deemed an expedient measure, I cannot help feeling that many fans would still favour the staging of replays in every round of the championship. And I don’t think managers and players would have any grave objections either if the truth be told.
Not only is an additional competitive game of more value than three or four weeks hard labour on the training ground but it helps to keep players very much on their toes, lends a further level of intrigue to the provincial and All Ireland championships and would bring in much-needed revenue.
I am aware that research was undertaken prior to the decision to do away with early-round replays but many feel the Championship season has been rather flat to date, although Sligo’s win over Mayo in Connacht and Louth’s eclipse of Kildare in Leinster bracketed with Monaghan’s surprisingly easy win over fancied Armagh in Ulster have admittedly combined to enhance the overall picture.
The view has been held for some time that referees on occasions ‘play’ for replays and indeed there have been instances where the full-time whistle has sounded rather prematurely leading to suggestions that somewhat ‘artificial’ draws ensued thus providing the platform for another handsome pay-day for provincial Councils or Central Council.
While this theory may or may not have credence there is little doubt that the current fixtures programme could actually benefit from being re-energised with some additional tasty clashes.
It would appear, though, that the first round games in the All Ireland Qualifiers are hardly calculated to generate enormous enthusiasm. Certainly the Armagh v Donegal clash will have some general appeal while the Kildare v Antrim confrontation could prove extremely interesting. But for the most part this initial series of ties lacks real glamour.
Now that we are at the football championship semi-final stage in Ulster, Munster and Connacht, replays of course will be staged if and when necessary — and I certainly welcome that.
An enhanced diet of matches would do no harm and would not, I feel, seriously discomfit club programmes in various counties, although Tyrone manager Mickey Harte is understandably less than pleased by the demands clubs appear to be making on his squad players.
On the other hand, I note that Ambrose Rogers and Aidan Carr, both of whom are bidding to regain full match fitness following lengthy lay-offs because of injury, are due to turn out for their club Clonduff in a Down league game tomorrow night and yet they are still hopeful of getting game time in their county colours in Saturday’s Ulster semi-final against Tyrone at Casement Park.
This only goes to prove that where there is a will there is always a way.