Westside Story – November 15th 2014

It’s been a poor year for our club champions in Munster with fourteen-man Sarsfields the latest – and highest profile – to fall.

Denis Maher’s dismissal after mere seconds of play must rank as one the fastest dispatches ever. Clearly it scuppered any prospect of a balanced contest and Cratloe duly advanced to a provincial final meeting with Kilmallock.

It’s another deeply disappointing one for Sarsfields whose 2012 Munster win remains a stand-alone achievement, despite five county titles in the past ten years. Given the demands of the occasion Maher was probably the last player they could afford to lose.

Cratloe v Thurles Sarsfields - AIB Munster GAA Hurling Senior Club Championship Semi-Final
For Cork official, Cathal McAllister, it was the latest in a growing list of Tipperary men he’s flashed red at. Last year he applied the ultimate sanction to two Loughmore men in their club tie with Na Piarsaigh and earlier this year John Meagher was a critical loss when very harshly dismissed by the same official in the Munster U21 tie at Ennis.

Anyway under new strictures referee bashing by team officials is to be punished so Sarsfields’ backroom boys were very controlled in their comments afterwards. I wasn’t at Ennis so I can’t make a judgment on that one. On the others it struck me that Mr. McAllister operates to a different standard to most of his colleagues.

Sarsfields’ exit is the latest in a run of defeats for Tipperary clubs. There’s also the spectre of the county being unable to make the deadlines for senior football and intermediate hurling. It all paints an unflattering picture of our domestic structures. Incidentally our failure to have the intermediate champions ready is hard to defend even allowing for the fact that clubs like Newport and Ballinahinch had players on the county senior panel. Moyne/Templetuohy’s moment of glory has been diminished as a result. All of this is material that should occupy minds over the winter months because clearly our present championship structures are chaotic.

Matter for winter reflection too is the county senior hurling panel and the possibility of retirements before O’Shea and colleagues assemble a preparatory group for the year ahead. Should I go or should I stay? is probably a chorus occupying the thoughts of a number of players – and not just in Tipperary.

Inevitably when you look at the Tipperary panel the players in the thirty-something bracket are the ones who’ll come under the microscope. In that regard speculation will focus on people like John O’Brien, Paul Curran, Eoin Kelly and Lar Corbett in particular, with perhaps a few others also coming into the mix.

I’m sure several factors, apart from age, come into the equation when players are contemplating retirement. It must be particularly difficult for players who’ve been central cogs on the team for many years to then adapt to a role on the bench with perhaps little prospect of a return to first-fifteen involvement.

Paul Curran, for example, made his championship debut back in ’02, but following surgery earlier this year had to sit out the entire season on the bench. This week he celebrates his birthday having reached the age of Christ and I suspect for such a ferocious competitor it must be galling to have to sit and watch. The latter stages of our club championship showed that there was still plenty of juice left in the tank but given his fate this past season when we had full back problems it’s difficult to see how the clock could be turned back in 2015.

Eoin Kelly will be thirty-three in January and having made his championship debut back in 2000 he has undeniably been the greatest Tipperary forward of his generation. His six All Star statuettes bear testimony to his consistent excellence since arriving on the scene as an underage prodigy. This year, however, his role was very much a cameo part making several brief entrances during the season.

John O’Brien will be thirty-three on New Year’s Day – his parents certainly got the timing perfect there for the GAA world! He made his championship debut back in 2001 and was regularly hailed in past years as one of the few Tipperary players who could master Kilkenny in the air. Yet in 2015 his role had diminished to a few brief and ineffective entrances. Once again it’s difficult to see greater involvement in 2015.

Lar Corbett of course is the daddy of the side; he’ll be thirty-four in March just a few days older than Darren Gleeson. Unlike the others he did have a central role with the team in 2014, his second half in the drawn All Ireland being the stand-out phase. Reading Larry’s intentions is not a pastime I’d waste energy on but he does appear to have a unique relationship with Eamon O’Shea and given the manager’s decision to stay on then perhaps the player of the year from 2010 will decide to remain as well.

The decision to retire is clearly a difficult one for many of these players. They’ve both entertained and enthralled us over many seasons so we owe them a lot. Yet tide and time, as they say, waits for no man. Few players have been able to get out at the top – Declan Fanning and Declan Ryan immediately spring to mind. Knowing when to go then is important and remember a new breed arrived on the Tipperary scene this season with five of the team playing in their first All Ireland final. The implications are obvious.

Finally the GAA has decided to act in the future against team officials who pass derogatory comments about match officials. Of course, we were told, this had absolutely nothing to do with the recent Brian Cody incident. Indeed. As if they didn’t have the power to act without any new strictures being introduced. It’s similar to that assertion from Croke Park earlier in the year – parroted incidentally by some of our own officials – that the rule on twenty-metre frees couldn’t be changed until next Congress. Well, it could, and it was. The Cork/Waterford game brought the issue to a head and the unchangeable was changed overnight. Brian Cody’s remark I’d suggest was a similar tipping point.

Anyway here’s an interesting one. Croke Park felt that new sanctions were needed to address abuse of match officials yet the Derry CCC had no such difficulty in facing up to a similar and, actually less abusive comment by a player. Following their county football final Ballinderry’s Aaron Devlin tweeted how it was ‘hard to beat fifteen players as well as a referee and a ginger linesman’. His punishment included a forty-eight week ban. Different strokes for different blokes.

Actually on the broader issue of abuse of players or officials the Association has to take a stronger stance. There’s no doubt abuse levels have increased. I’d suggest part of the cause is social media where people feel entitled, often while anonymous, to dish out the vilest of bile. It’s only a small step then to carry that same language into everyday usage. I’ve heard recently of some horrendous examples of abuse locally. In one case the mother of a Tipp player was traumatised by the level of vitriol she received after our defeat to Galway. In another example a former Tipperary manager’s wife was accosted while shopping and told she should be ashamed of her husband. How can people feel entitled to behave like this?

At a club match recently following the All Ireland replay a Tipperary player was squaring up to take a free when he pointed out to the nearby linesman that an opponent was standing too close to him. The linesman’s reaction: ‘a pity you weren’t a bit closer to the Kilkenny lads last Sunday’. Actually the player in question wouldn’t be shy about standing close to anyone but it’s the liberties that people feel entitled to take which amaze.

I’ll finish with this story that you may have heard about. It happened in Northumberland where an FA official told a female referee that ‘a woman’s place is in the kitchen and not on a football field’. For his trouble he was suspended for four months, fined two hundred and fifty quid and ordered to attend an education programme if he wished to return to duty. Copying soccer would never be popular in the GAA world but maybe we could do worse.