John Martin

John Martin: The only possible conclusion

BACK TO CROKER PARK....Meath and Antrim will meet in Dublin again

BACK TO CROKER PARK….Meath and Antrim will meet in Dublin again

SO a replay it is. Realistically there wasn’t really any other option when the referee admitted his mistake (then again it’s the GAA we’re talking about here) and Aogan O Fearghail’s comments on radio on
Tuesday morning strongly indicated that the CCCC had already decided what way their decision was going to go, prior to their meeting later that day.

Without getting too Disney about things, an apology to both counties would have been a nice touch or at least some kind of an acknowledgement that the blame lay firmly with the GAA officials.


Another aspect that was overlooked in the GAA statement of Tuesday afternoon was an explanation as to how the mistake occurred and more importantly an assurance to supporters everywhere – hurling and
football – that the necessary steps have been taken to ensure that the situation can’t happen again.

And it was somehow fitting that the original statement announcing the replay had the date wrong, originally stating that it would be played on the 18th. Instead it is this Saturday, giving the teams a
disgraceful period of notice for an All-Ireland final. What was the rush? There didn’t seem to be a rush to get the appropriate committee together any sooner than 72 hours after the match. The volunteers on the committee may not have liked to have their bank holiday ruined but that being the case a later date should have been set, and given the lack of blame attached to either team, the olive branch of a high profile day at Croke Park should have been offered also.

After the mistake came to light on Saturday, my immediate reaction to the result was that Meath – after the euphoria settled down – wouldn’t want to be a member of the Allan Wells Sporting Asterisk Hall of Fame.

For those younger readers who don’t know who Allan Wells is, he was a Scottish sprinter back in the 1980s who won an Olympic gold medal in the Moscow Olympics. His name will forever be in the record books but
his achievement is always tarnished by the fact that the US athletes boycotted the Games that year. Because of the lack of US athletes – and therefore the world’s top sprinters of the day – there is always an unofficial asterisk beside Wells’s achievement.

Had Meath been declared winners of the 2016 Christy Ring Cup, they would have forever had an asterisk beside their achievement, although comments from the Royals manager Martin Ennis suggest that, like their
footballing counterparts in 2010, they don’t particularly mind. Ennis cited a 41st minute shot that was signalled wide by the umpires as validation of Meath’s victory.

While I have every sympathy for Meath, they’re clutching at straws with that one. A debatable decision is in a different ball park to what actually occurred on Saturday. Refs get decisions wrong all the
time. It’s impossible not to get a few marginal calls wrong over the course of 70 minutes’ hurling. But when a referee’s report states that the game was a draw, then it’s a draw. And when a draw occurs, there’s a replay.

In any case, had there been an incorrect call by the umpire, as Ennis claims, there is an official who immediately communicates to the referee that a mistake has been made and Hawkeye is needed for a
review. Had it been the case that Sean Heavey’s shot had gone between the posts, then the reviewing official would have alerted the referee.

I’m at the disadvantage of writing this on Tuesday and am aware that there’ll be plenty of more debate about this over the next couple of days before Gaelic Life hits the shelves, and there may well be a few
more twists in this tale but while the GAA doesn’t come out of this saga well, they had only one option when the referee admitted his mistake – and that was to replay the game.

What the fiasco has done, is to distract attention away from how poor Antrim were in the second half of Saturday’s drawn game. They were not only second best in terms of desire, hunger, togetherness and all
those less tangible attributes, they were second best in terms of fitness, stickwork, teamwork, catching, decision-making – and the number of mistakes made by Antrim when they weren’t under any great pressure was shocking.

I didn’t get to the game as I was at the excellent Joe McKelvey Tournament at O’Donovan Rossa. As I sat enjoying the first 20 minutes or so on television, I felt suitably confident that my prediction of a
10-point win for Antrim would materialise. Antrim looked a class apart. What followed in the second half reminded me of watching Antrim v Kerry in the League promotion/relegation play-off at Parnell Park last
year. Fifteen individuals clad in saffron shirts being outfought and, under no great pressure, being ‘forced’ into error after error.

I note that the bookies have Antrim as 1-7 favourites for the replay, even shorter favourites than they were the last day out. It will be difficult for both teams, but I suspect more difficult for Meath, to
get themselves together for the reply at four days’ notice. I think Antrim will get over the line this time round by about five or six points but another 25-minute performance such as that produced at
Croke Park and they’ll deserve to be back in the Christy Ring next year. And it’s worth remembering that shortly after the 1980 Olympics Allan Wells took on the best in the US, a team that included Carl
Lewis and Stanley Floyd – and beat them.

* This article originally appeared in Thursday’s Gaelic Life.

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