I was out driving round Dublin 9 a bit after six this evening and as I made my way down Grace Park Road, I met a stream of Northern registered cars heading in the opposite direction, most of them sporting the proud red and black of the Mourne County. It would have been a pleasant jaunt back up the M1 for them this evening as they reflected back on their county’s first All-Ireland semi-final victory for sixteen years and started to make plans for a return journey to these parts for Down’s happy hunting ground that is the All-Ireland final.
Anyone who watched today’s enthralling All-Ireland semi-final will readily accept that Down were the better side over the seventy minutes and that in Marty Clarke they possessed the game’s standout performer (those 1/5 odds during the week on Bernard Brogan to win FOTY now look a teentsy bit mean, I reckon). Kildare never really recovered from the fusillade of points late in the first half that sent the Mournemen in five to the good at the break and although the Short Grass County were once again an improved outfit in the second period, they failed to narrow the gap quickly enough to give themselves a decent shot of snatching it at the death. Mind you, had Robert Kelly’s last-minute rasper made it to the net rather than cannoning back off the underside of the bar, it would have been a different story altogether.
Both teams gave it everything today and it was tough luck on Kildare, who once again came up short by a narrow margin. They will obviously be proud tonight about their team’s performance but they have also every right to be as mad as hell at the cretinously incompetent shift put in by Pat McEnaney’s team of umpires. It was bad enough that one lot waved wide a pointed shot from Alan Smith early on in the contest but the failure of the two clowns at the other end to spot the most blatant of square balls when Benny Coulter goaled for Down simply beggared belief.
The Lillies might well have lost had both of these decisions gone the correct way. And it wasn’t as if every dodgy decision went Down’s way: Eamon Callaghan took at least eight or nine steps before scoring Kildare’s second half goal. But what these decisions, in particular the square ball one, did was to alter the course the game was taking up until then. Kildare had started the brighter and were clearly dominating proceedings but the goal severely jolted them and, as they wobbled on the ropes, Down then went on to hit them with the barrage of points late in the first half that ultimately won the game for them. Would the half have turned out the same way if the umpires had done their job properly? It’s impossible, of course, to say for sure but I doubt that it would have done.
This is the second time this year that the outcome of a high-profile match has been largely determined by umpiring incompetence. Enough is enough: it’s high time that the arcane practice of allowing inter-county refs to take a carload of their portly drinking buddies with them to umpire matches is done away with and that umpires are instead chosen from the general pool of referees. While this move may not sort out all of the problems there are with umpiring, it’d nonetheless be a good start.