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McGrath's broadside at Donegal hits a raw nerve

By John Campbell

Fermanagh manager Peter McGrath has certainly touched on a raw nerve following his assertion that Donegal deployed cynical tactics in overcoming his side in Sunday's Ulster Championship quarter-final at MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey.

Former Down All-Ireland winning boss McGrath - he guided his native county to the sport's top accolade in 1991 and 1994 - has, perhaps unwittingly, stoked an even greater awareness of the referee's role in the modern game.

It was McGrath's straight from the shoulder broadside that triggered widespread support from throughout the province and further afield just when the championship season is beginning to hot up after a tepid start.

"A number of Donegal players went down feigning injury just to stop the clock and the referee fell for it," blasted McGrath. "Let's see what the authorities will do about it but we know they will do nothing. But this is Fermanagh - if it was Dublin who were on the receiving end of some of these things then they might do something about it.

"I would think there would be more outrage about it then. And when you think that it took three minutes from a penalty being awarded until the kick was taken, that was totally unacceptable."

The GAA authorities are always at pains to lay great emphasis on the presentation of their games and particularly showpiece championship matches but they will surely have much to mull over when they view the video of Sunday's contest.

Three former high-profile Ulster players certainly think the Croke Park chiefs have been provided with plenty of food for thought anyway.

John Clarke fulfilled a key role in the Down side that lost by just a point to Cork in the 2010 All-Ireland final (0-16 to 0-15) and believes that even since then cynicism has become rampant within the sport.

"To be honest about it, teams like Donegal have taken it to a new level and that's disappointing," maintains Clarke, whose brother Martin was surprisingly not enlisted to aid the Mourne cause this year. "There is no doubt that cynicism has crept in to such an extent that it has now gained an unacceptable foothold.

"It is very hard to watch indeed and does nothing for the image of the sport."

Clarke's view is endorsed by Armagh 2002 All-Ireland winning forward Diarmuid Marsden.

"Obviously players are more cute now and will pull out all the stops in a bid to win matches but I believe that there is too much cynicism in the game," maintains Marsden.

"This business of strategically fouling players or players feigning injury is extremely disturbing and certainly impacts on what would be deemed to be a suitable presentation of our games."

Marsden, a coaching authority within the sport and a player who was thought to be ahead of his time, acknowledges that while the stakes are high in many games, this should not be seen as a reason to engage in behaviour that actually brings the sport into disrepute.

"That's what's happening," maintains Lurgan Clan na gael member Marsden.

"It's not pretty. Gaelic football is a great sport with considerable spectator appeal but we don't want to see it taking a step backward because some teams seek to go outside the rule book in their quest for success."

Meanwhile, it seems likely that Fermanagh defender Niall Cassidy will be hit with a ban ahead of their meeting with Wexford, after his strike on Eamonn McGee was picked up by television cameras.

• THE arrangements for the four Round 1B All-Ireland football qualifiers on Saturday week have been finalised and are: Antrim v Limerick (Corrigan Park, Belfast 2pm), Down v Longford (Páirc Esler, Newry 2pm), Wexford v Fermanagh (Innovate Wexford Park 5pm), Offaly v London (O'Connor Park, Tullamore 2pm).

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