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Victims lose out in GAA's blame game

Targeting players is not a new phenomenon, but referees really should be more clued in

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David Clifford of Kerry reacts as referee Fergal Kelly shows him a second yellow card during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 3 match between Tyrone and Kerry at Edendork GAC in Dungannon, Co Tyrone. Photo by David Fitzgerald

David Clifford of Kerry reacts as referee Fergal Kelly shows him a second yellow card during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 3 match between Tyrone and Kerry at Edendork GAC in Dungannon, Co Tyrone. Photo by David Fitzgerald

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David Clifford of Kerry reacts as referee Fergal Kelly shows him a second yellow card during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 3 match between Tyrone and Kerry at Edendork GAC in Dungannon, Co Tyrone. Photo by David Fitzgerald

There was another fascinating series of matches in Division 1 of the Allianz Football League last weekend and like most weekends, there was no shortage of talking points emanating from the four clashes.

Most of the discussion centred on events in Croke Park where Dublin maintained their unbeaten record with another narrow win, this time over Donegal.

However, in many respects the result seemed superfluous as what you would consider the most important factor - the final score - was pushed into the background by other issues.

In this case, the targeting of players and the officiating surrounding it was all over social media and beyond and was the main topic for discussion in the following days.

I think the first thing to say about this 'personal attention' that some players get is that it is not a new phenomenon, nor is it restricted to the likes of David Clifford, Diarmuid Connolly or Michael Murphy.

This has been part and parcel of Gaelic football for a long time and is something that I was on subjected to when I set out as an inter-county midfielder back in the 1990s.

Naturally, I was quite naïve at that time and there's no question that the likes of John McDermott and Anthony Tohill, to name just two, were more than happy to lay down markers. There's no question in my mind that I was targeted for special focus.

It was a steep learning curve for me but it's something that you just have to deal with. Most importantly, you have to be able to stand up for yourself.

I'm not absolving officials of their responsibility in dealing with foul play, but there is also a personal responsibility on the individual to deal with this attention in a mature way. I may also have failed many times in that regard.

Perhaps that wasn't something I managed to do at the beginning, but as you grow older, you become more experienced in how you protect yourself.

Sometimes, that's easier said than done and that is when officials need to take more positive action in ensuring this type of conduct is nipped in the bud.

Lets be honest, it wasn't the greatest surprise in the world that both Murphy and John Small were at the centre of most of the flashpoints last Saturday. Murphy was targeted as a main threat in the Donegal team and Small was given the job of curtailing his influence.

Now John Small is no angel, he plays on the edge and has had his fair share of cards of various colours in recent years. Murphy is a seasoned campaigner who had the experience to deal with the situation and was certainly not going to stand down.

Let's not be hypocritical, everyone wants a John Small, a Ricey McMenamin or a Francie Bellew-type player in their team, but the risk that comes with that type of player must be accepted.

Television footage of the bookings of Small and Murphy at the end of Saturday's contest, which led to their sendings-off, was inconclusive, but if you were to hazard a guess based on the balance of probabilities, John Small would be your prime suspect for the instigator.

Maybe Murphy did contribute in some way and if he was caught retaliating then he may have paid the price, depending on what referee Maurice Deegan saw. Murphy may reflect this week and think that Small sucked him into the web and he has to be smarter.

The frustrating aspect for players and spectators alike is that it appears that the easy option of showing yellow cards to both protagonists is taken too often by the officials. That tendency to punish both individuals, irrespective of who the instigator is, was probably highlighted more with Clifford's dismissal against Tyrone in Round 3, when it was obvious that Clifford did not engage in any way.

These are the times when the team of officials need to have their wits about them and ensure that the perpetrator is the one who gets punished. Surely officials could have a pre-match chat where key match-ups or potential team tactics could be discussed and early intervention in punishing the instigator could deal with the situation at source.

Ultimately, these instances will continue and while officials take the easy option of dealing with both protagonists in the same manner, controversy is sure to follow.

Tomorrow sees Dublin travel to Omagh to play Tyrone in a contest that is probably more important for the hosts, given their struggles against Galway in Tuam last weekend.

The sight of Dublin coming to town should help in terms of their motivation, but given the relatively fledgling nature of Dessie Farrell's tenure, it's difficult to predict how events will transpire tomorrow night.

You can see from their performances that when Dublin decide to up the intensity, they are rewarded on the scoreboard and that has been obvious in their last two games against Monaghan and Donegal.

It was also interesting to note that Dessie seems to have plenty of ammunition on the bench and that was evident in the contributions of Cormac Costello, Colm Basquel and Aaron Byrne last weekend.

It is significant to see this pace being introduced and I will be curious to see the dynamic of the forward line selected tomorrow night.

As managerial starts go, Dublin would have to be encouraged with where they are at present and if they can just get away from the lacklustre starts they should have enough to claim two points.