SO, was it a free? There are moments that change games; goals, blocks, sendings off – those sorts of things – and then there are decisions which alter irrevocably the result of a match.
Cormac Reilly's decision to award an injury-time free to Bernard Brogan for an apparent off-the-ball pull from Aindriú Mac Lochlainn falls squarely into the second category. Firstly, the accused. “I was sure in my mind that it wasn't a free,” insisted Mac Lochlainn immediately after the match. “The game shouldn't come down to a decision like that. It's unnecessary and it's a cruel way to end a game of football.
“I know in my mind that I didn't foul him, but that's football.” From TV replays contact, it seems, between the supposedly sinnedagainst, Brogan, and the sinner, Mac Lochlainn is minimal. The Ellistown defender didn't disclose the content of his conversation with Reilly as he walked off the pitch but take it for granted he wasn't congratulating him on his performance.
No doubt, Reilly was a fair distance from the offence and given some of the tit-for-tat stuff that was going on between the respective inside lines, it begs the question why he hadn't blown up for any number of fouls in the previous 71 or so minutes. “He didn't do anything wrong,” insisted a deflated Kieran McGeeney afterwards. Even after probably seven replays he still didn't do anything wrong.
If you have your hands up in the air and if it came to running alongside the player… “Up front, I thought our boys were getting pulled all over the shop, big strong lads in fairness but they stayed on their feet. You can't just keep going on and on about it. It's annoying. Such matters have become Geezer's stock and trade in postmatch comments, but yesterday after yet another major call had gone against his team, he just sighed and now seemed convinced that his team weren't going to get a fair crack with officialdom. “I don't have to say it. It was plain as day and I think they're going on about it on TV. I can't go on about referees much longer.
I just can't. When you lose, you lose. You justhave to take it on the chin.” Pat Gilroy, meanwhile, had a different way of looking at it. “I think Bernard was probably due a free at that stage,” said the Dublin boss. “He had probably had a few calls that seemed to go against him. “So in fairness, I'd say there were seven or eight that he could have had before that. “But your man was pulling him. I mean, we either want to have good forwards pulled and have that as part of the game or it was a free because he was pulling him, there's no question. “He was pulling him eight other times and he didn't get frees. “That's something that's part of championship football. We either have it as part of the game or we don't. But we don't have guys doing it. I think it was a free.”
Does he understand Kildare's frustration all the same? “Of course, because it does seem that when you get into championship that there is allowed to be a little tug (on the forward) once he releases before the referee looks. “I don't think the referee could see them, but it just happened with this one, it was a longer ball in, and he did see it.” SEVERITY No doubt, Reilly – a late replacement for fellow Meath man David Coldrick to ref the game – must have been fully sure in his mind about the severity of MacLochlainn's indiscretion. How else could you explain a referee blowing such a free when a big championship match is tied going into the final moments? McGeeney, who has had more than a fair share of big calls go against him in the championship over the past few years, said it was symptomatic of a wider problem within the Croke Park corridors.
“The benefit of the doubt can go for a whole lot of different reasons,” mused McGeeney. “(Because he's) the Player of the Year, it can be a whole lot of different things. “It is a pity that over the last few years bigger and bigger decisions have been costing teams and they won't address it. “You still have the same fellas sitting up there saying there's nothing wrong. The time added on to me is one thing – that's obvious to anybody. It should be bread and butter for teams or for the officialdom. “It's hard to take and it's even harder for me not to say anything,” he added. “But you take it and get on with it.”