Refs are out to get me, says Armagh captain Ciaran McKeever
Armagh captain Ciaran McKeever has claimed that from the outset of this year, he has been "headhunted" by referees eager to punish him.
Speaking at the launch of the Ulster Championship, McKeever was asked about his one-game suspension for the final game of their league programme against Galway.
He had been issued with the suspension after an incident arising from the two-point loss against Louth in round five of the National league.
Injured for the match, McKeever was acting as the team runner and was reported by match referee Eddie Kinsella for interfering with Louth free-taker Brian White, after a minor scuffle on the sideline.
Discussing his punishment, McKeever alleged, "The most annoying point for me is, and I am not afraid to say it, in January I knew I was being headhunted.
"An inter-county referee told me that the first chance they would get they were going to nail me. That is the sad point."
When asked to clarify if it was an inter-county referee, McKeever added, "A top inter-county referee", and if it was brought up at a meeting of referees, he said, "I don't know. It must have been talked about somewhere."
Quizzed if it bothered him greatly with regards to his playing future, McKeever added, "Yeah, definitely, you are a marked man every time you go out and play a game of football and that is something that you have to deal with."
After attending a hearing with the Competition Controls Committee, McKeever was handed down the punishment. A month afterwards, he is still fuming at his treatment.
"I was annoyed with the suspension I got and the terms, the way it ended out. I have still yet to know what I was suspended for.
"What I was told was," he explained, "you are being suspended for something that is more likely to have happened, than not have happened, and common sense is not in the rule book.
"I told them what happened in the match, I was shouting, "watch the posts, watch the posts" while a Louth player was taking a free-kick and that is what I got four weeks for."
Making reference to Dublin's Kevin O'Brien being cleared of charges last week over the case involving Patrick McBrearty of Donegal, McKeever continued, "I don't like to see any player get suspended but I think, in my eyes, I was shafted and the proof of the pudding ended up last week that I was right."
However, the Chairman of the National Referee's Committee, Pat McEnaney, has responded to McKeever's claims, stating, "That is absolute nonsense. I can tell you that we never single out players at meetings and discuss them on a singular basis.
"In fact, it is something that we always stress that you referee the game that is in front of you, and that what happened in the past has nothing to do with the game that you are refereeing."
Commonly referred to as one of the finest referees to ever officiate a game, McEnaney has challenged the Armagh captain to speak directly to him on the issue, saying, "I know that Ciaran McKeever has put that out there now, I would have to ask him to back it up and tell me who the referee is that said that to him."
Meanwhile, McKeever has praised the spirit in the Armagh camp and manager Paul Grimley after they endured what he described as "the most disappointing season I ever had" in 2012.
"I worked with Paul the first couple of years I came into Armagh and I have huge respect for him," the St Patrick's Cullyhanna man said.
"He has brought a whole new freshness to the team, brought in a whole lot of young guys, only out of minor and under-21 to freshen the whole thing up.
"He has created a level playing field which is the way it should be and it should hold us in good stead."
The return of Jamie Clarke to the Armagh squad after his travels over the spring has given a fresh impetus ahead of the Ulster Championship opener, when Armagh face Cavan in Breffni Park on May 19th.
Holding onto the Crossmaglen forward has been essential for Armagh's Championship ambitions, McKeever admits.
"There was talk that Jamie was going to go away for the summer which would have been a low point for us, but Jamie really wants to succeed with Armagh and that is part of the reason he stayed at home.
"He got a break midway through the National League and he has been back two weeks and he has been pushing hard in training.
"You can see that he is really up for it."