'Facts prove we're not a cynical team'
Referees have been influenced by unfair 'narrative', claims Dubs boss, who queries recent appointments
Jim Gavin had a message to get out there and yesterday's Leinster SFC launch, he obviously deemed, was the ideal time to unveil it.
"What I was surprised about," he said, "was the narrative that was growing in the background that this Dublin team was a cynical team."
Nothing, he argued, could be further from the truth ... and yet he reckoned certain referees have been "influenced" by this narrative.
As for where this message was coming from, the Dublin manager clarified that he was not referring to certain pre-league final quotes from Kerry boss éamonn Fitzmaurice. Rather, he was talking about referees being asked, in the media, to explain decisions that they failed to give against Dublin.
"I've no problem with that," he said, "but it needs to be balanced."
Journalists gathered in the Pearse Museum had bargained for a few topical Gavin quotes about his new two-year extension ... in the event they got a whole lot more.
His complaints about this 'cynical Dubs' perception were volunteered unprompted, stemming from his own reflections on last month's Allianz League final defeat, ending Dublin's 36-game unbeaten run.
Praising the resilience and grit that brought his team back to within a point of Kerry, he alluded to "that penalty call that wasn't given" (for a foul on Dean Rock) and suggested this was a "reflection maybe of a very good but inexperienced referee being in that cauldron and not giving it".
Asked to expand on the appointment of Roscommon's Paddy Neilan, who hadn't refereed any previous Division 1 games this year, Gavin said: "Yeah, I mean, he's an excellent referee. As was the referee we had from Tyrone (Seán Hurson) down in Tralee.
"But you would have to certainly question the logic behind exposing a referee with that experience in those high-pressure games. I don't think it's fair on them."
While this was a matter for Croke Park, he added: "We have a lot of experienced referees out there and I think there should be a better methodology of giving our top-class, up-and-coming referees exposure - not at the deep end, in the high-profile games, but in a more measured way."
The interview moved on from a discussion about Neilan's league final performance to a more philosophical debate about the black card.
"I still think that it's not punitive enough - being able to replace a player was always a cop-out. Bring the sin-bin in, it works. If it can work at underage rugby, it certainly can work at senior inter-county football," was Gavin's familiar mantra.
But then he raised the subject of Dublin's so-called cynicism.
"I think we're a very physical team, we play a physical contact sport and we need to keep that part of our game, that's what makes it one of the best field sports in the world," he said.
"But I think the facts demonstrate that we're not, in terms of the yellow and black cards, a cynical team and that we try to play the right way."
Citing Lee Keegan's "fantastic goal" in last year's All-Ireland relay, he argued: "If we were a cynical team he wouldn't have got through - but he did, so they're just the facts."
As for Diarmuid Connolly's league final black card, Gavin reckoned: "Under the old rule it would have been a yellow card for rough play, but under the technical drag-down that's what it is and he accepts that."
But he added: "I still think that referees have been influenced by that narrative, that we are a cynical team. He (Connolly) got a black card up in Monaghan that clearly wasn't, and the referee was very close to him to see it, and there was no grey area about it. So when you see that narrative going about us ... are referees being influenced by that narrative? I would hope not."
Asked if he was referencing comments from Fitzmaurice (who cited a "complete lack of balance" in the narrative about Kerry's physicality when they met Dublin in Tralee), Gavin said this was not the case.
"When you see referees who have refereed our previous games being asked to justify decisions that they gave or didn't give against Dublin ... well that's fine, I've no problem with that, but it needs to be balanced. It needs to be opened up to say 'Well, what happened with the other team as well?' It can't be just one focus on one particular team, and that's where the narrative is coming from."
Recent examples of this include media mea culpas by Maurice Deegan (for not black-carding John Small during last year's All-Ireland final replay) and David Gough (for not awarding Kerry a free for Kevin McManamon's frontal challenge on Peter Crowley last August).
"Yeah, there's been a few comments made," Gavin agreed. "I do welcome referees articulating their decision-making process, I think that's healthy for the sport.
"What frustrates supporters, the viewing public, the media, the players and the management teams is that inconsistency. The more we understand how those decisions are made, the more we can train our players accordingly. It's healthy but it's getting the balance. You would hope that other referees aren't being influenced by that when they referee our games."