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Saturday 25 January 2020

The year in GAA controversies - From boardroom mayhem to red cards, 2019 has had its moments

OFF: David Gough gives Jonny Cooper his marching order in the drawn football decider. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
OFF: David Gough gives Jonny Cooper his marching order in the drawn football decider. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

What makes a great GAA controversy?

Naturally, the criteria are subjective. But two things you won't lack are options and variety.

There's an entire category, for example, to be made from administration/rulebook rows like The Keady Affair, the abolition of Rule 42 or Jimmy Keaveney and the Pope.

Or if GAA-brand violence is more your thing, pick from The Battle of Omagh, the 1996 All-Ireland football final or the Twelve Blue Apostles.

Nor does the GAA lack for nerve-jabbing injustices: (see: 2010 Leinster football final, Clare v Offaly '98, Newbridge or Nowhere).

From Cork and their three player strikes in a decade to man-up-a-tree outside Fitzgerald Stadium, there's a decent book to be written on the off-field sideshows that have brightened and darkened the Association's already colourful history in equal measure.

It hasn't been a vintage year for GAA controversies, most of which will be forgotten as soon as the first row of 2020 erupts in a few weeks' time, as inevitably it will.

Still, 2019 wasn't without its moments.

 

THE KENNEDY INTERCEPTION

OFF: Referee James Owens shows Kilkenny’s Richie Hogan a red card for his challenge on Tipperary’s Cathal Barrett in the All-Ireland hurling final. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
OFF: Referee James Owens shows Kilkenny’s Richie Hogan a red card for his challenge on Tipperary’s Cathal Barrett in the All-Ireland hurling final. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

The upshot here was the CCCC banned Dublin hurling selector and former Galway defender Greg Kennedy for four weeks for 'disruptive conduct' after he caught a free TJ Reid tried to take quickly to team-mate Billy Ryan in a first-round Leinster Championship match.

But even without his intervention, the play wouldn't have come to anything anyway as referee Cathal McAllister was speaking to a Dublin player at the time.

But the crowd in Kilkenny either didn't know that or didn't seem to care.

In an instant, they had their pantomime villain in Kennedy, who wasn't Mr Popular around those parts anyway due to his infamously robust marking of Henry Shefflin in the 2005 All-Ireland semi-final.

With one catch, the atmosphere in Nowlan Park went from humdrum to howl at the moon and Kilkenny won by five.

 

OFF: Dublin selector Greg Kennedy leaves the pitch after catching a TJ Reid free in the first round of the Leinster SHC. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
OFF: Dublin selector Greg Kennedy leaves the pitch after catching a TJ Reid free in the first round of the Leinster SHC. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

DIARMUID CONNOLLY REJOINS DUBLIN PANEL

Technically a saga more than a controversy - but one with more printed words dedicated to it than any other in the GAA in 2019.

It also featured the most Jim Gavin moment of all time during one of those anodyne interviews with the Dublin County Board's official channel, when he dropped the news into a casual injury update from the previous evening's Super 8s victory over Cork.

"We had James McCarthy back on the pitch," he began. "Eoin Murchan, Jonny Cooper. Diarmuid Connolly is back training with us. Robbie McDaid is back. Darren Gavin is coming back as well this week."

With that, Connolly, the most prodigious footballer of the decade, was back in the blue panel just 17 days after he was turned away at Dublin Airport on his way to spend the summer in Boston due to a technicality with his ESTA.

Remarkably, he played a full half in the All-Ireland final replay nine weeks later.

 

LIMERICK'S PHANTOM '65

"I knew the ball had changed direction," confessed Kilkenny goalkeeper Eoin Murphy a couple of weeks after the moment a Diarmuid O'Donovan sideline cut ended up behind his post via a deflection from Cillian Buckley's stick.

That was in the final minute of a pulsating All-Ireland semi-final. Limerick trailed by just a point, having clawed and grappled their way back into a game they appeared to start roughly 20 minutes too late.

"There was just so many players in around that vicinity that I genuine did not realise who it had come off," Murphy added.

"In my own head, obviously because the way it had gone, you're obviously presuming that a Limerick player is not going to be deflecting that, I had a fair idea it was one of our players, but again you take whatever breaks come your way.

"The way I was approaching the puck-out, you'd actually realise I hadn't a clue who had touched it."

 

DAVID GOUGH'S FINAL APPOINTMENT

Éamonn Fitzmaurice knew the appointment decision was in the final stages of being made when he decreed that anyone "living and working in Dublin," couldn't quality as "neutral," in an All-Ireland final involving Dublin.

And as the likeliest referee to get the job, David Gough fell into that sticky bracket.

Fitzmaurice didn't offer any theories on which planet a GAA person from Meath could conceivably be deemed partial towards Dublin, but there you go.

The former Kerry manager's grievance was Gough missing an obvious foul on Peter Crowley by Kevin McManamon in the closing stages of the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final.

A legitimate gripe but hardly one that precluded the best ref in the game refereeing the biggest match of the year.

Others with media platforms from Kerry echoed Fitzmaurice's concern, prompting accusations of an orchestrated campaign.

As it happened, Gough gave a textbook performance, replete with a correctly called first-half Jonny Cooper red card.

 

RICHIE HOGAN SEES RED

Brian Cody was asked about this again recently and while he wasn't inclined to back down from his initial position, the Kilkenny boss wasn't in the humour to be raking old coals either.

You could make a strong case that Tipperary were simply the better team in the All-Ireland final, and that that superiority would have revealed itself with the passing of time anyway.

But the facts are that Tipperary were just a point up at the time James Owens sent him off for a high challenge on Cathal Barrett and Kilkenny had made a habit over the previous two games in grinding out victories.

"They spoke about your arm not being down by your side. This is not Irish dancing," Hogan said 24 hours later.

"We have hurleys in our hands, how do we hold a 36-inch hurley without bending your arm?"

Hogan sought a hearing but so far, has failed to have a one-game ban lifted.

 

COUNTY BOARD MELTDOWNS

Where to start? The recent curious case of Cork's concealed debt?

The resignation of Meath chairman Peter O'Halloran over revelations he told a referee he would be sending him to 'ride Slane'?

Or Supermac's, one of the longest-serving, lucrative and recognisable sponsors in the inter-county game, issuing a public demand for details from the Galway County Board as to how they had spent the €1.6m paid to them over the previous five years?

None of these, however, can reasonably compare to Mayo's off-field travails this winter.

It started with the millionaire backer,

Tim O'Leary, who wanted to invest more of his hard-earned in Mayo GAA but first required receipts for where the initial instalment went.

Since then, we've had refund demands, legal proceedings, accusations of bullying, media bans and 'shoe the donkey'.

The changing of some of the county board old guard at the recent convention has resulted in swords being returned to their scabbards.

For now at least, peace has broken out in Mayo GAA.

As John Lennon sang, 'Happy Xmas (war is over)'.

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