Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

All eyes will be centred on man in middle

Under fire: Sunday's semi-final referee Maurice Deegan has had his run-ins with Mayo players in the past

It is an accepted fact that referees taking charge of major championship matches inevitably find themselves under various forms of pressure.

Now whistlers tasked with handling some top-flight games find themselves in the line of fire BEFORE a ball is kicked.

In this respect, spare a thought for Maurice Deegan. The Laois man, an experienced official, has been chosen by the National Referees' Appointments Committee to oversee Sunday's All-Ireland semi-final between Mayo and Tyrone.

Yet hardly had Deegan's appointment been confirmed than he was being described as "weak as water" by one Mayo source and fending off suggestions from numerous quarters that he will be unable to cope with Tyrone's cynical fouling.

Mayo fans still hold a grudge against Deegan over handling of the two national finals in which their team was involved last year.

Yet his most recent acquaintance with Mayo was in their league game against Tyrone and, on that occasion, he acquitted himself quite creditably.

But while fears are being expressed openly in Mayo that Deegan may lack conviction in dealing with Tyrone's perceived cynicism, the Laois whistler himself provides a telling commentary in this respect.

"The only way the game can be cleaned up is to take out all this deliberate fouling that has crept in over the last year or two," insists Deegan.

"Penalising a guy for pulling down a player is a no-brainer. If a player deliberately pulls another guy down it's an automatic card. It's the same with remonstrating with a referee or match official. They are very simple rules."

The rules may be simple but it's their application on a consistent basis that appears to be the big problem.

And Mayo followers might require to glance in the mirror before denigrating Deegan's credentials too much.

It has been statistically confirmed that Tyrone's concession rate in terms of frees is well within the normal range, while they have been awarded more frees than they gave away.

Unlike the other three semi-finalists – Mayo, Kerry and Dublin – all of Tyrone's games, with the exception of the qualifier win over Offaly, were tight, tense affairs where players were far more likely to concede frees and pick up cards.

Indeed, Tyrone have won their last four games by two-point margins and it was following the qualifier ties against Meath and Kildare and the fraught All-Ireland quarter-final against Monaghan that allegations of cynicism rained down on the Red Hands.

Yet despite having had a trouble-free passage into the last four which should have negated the need for any incursion into the darker arts, Mayo have the highest free differential against them, having conceded 93 while being awarded 79.

It's surprising indeed that a team which won its four games by an average of 15.5 points conceded more frees than it was awarded, since they were clearly enjoying levels of ascendancy rarely seen in the championship.

Teams tend to foul more under pressure but Mayo's average was the highest of the All-Ireland semi-finalists.

And irrespective of Deegan's capabilities, they will foul at their peril on Sunday given the free-taking skills of Stephen O'Neill, Darren McCurry and Peter Harte.

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