I am travelling to Dangan twice weekly training the NUIG footballers. The training is going well but unfortunately the results are not matching so far. The senior squad played three league matches against GMIT, Sligo IT, and Athlone IT, and unfortunately lost all three. Both Tomas Tierney and I agreed we would use the league to try to have a look at as many players as possible. This meant a loss of continuity in selection and with it a series of disjointed performances. Those three lost games meant we were drawn into a relegation play off. We lost the first play off game last week against DIT and we have one final game against UL next week.
As it transpires relegation would not be such a disaster as there is a long standing agreement that NUIG will always be invited to play in the Sigerson Cup competition. While the college could end up playing in the lower league division next year, it is really all about the Sigerson Cup. What we have discovered is that there is time to be spent moulding the squad into a cohesive unit in order to maximise their ability. Unfortunately we do not have an abundance of outstanding players. Michael Meehan is back at college studying for his HDip but unfortunately is out injured after having shoulder surgery a few months ago. Our team captain Ciaran McDonald (Tipperary ) was diagnosed with shingles a few weeks ago and he too will be sidelined for quite a while. DCU currently have one Michael Murphy in their ranks, who scored 1-12 for DCU in their relegation encounter against UL last week. We at NUIG do however have a bunch of lads who are hugely enthusiastic and are interested in playing. Our task over the next two/three months is to fine-tune the minds of the players. The majority are not ready made inter-county players. Saying that, there are many who have played underage football at inter-county level with their respective counties who have disappointed. College football is, however, a big step up in standard. Many are finding that out now. We will have achieved something if we can convince these talented young players of their worth and create an environment where they can fulfil their talent. It remains to be seen.
Now a referee in any sport can attract controversy, but it seems that the GAA referees attract more than their fair share. Is it justified? It saddens me to have to say that I believe, on lots of occasions, it is. During the summer I recall reading an article where the Wexford goalkeeper Anthony Masterson stated that Limerick's winning point in the side’s All-Ireland SFC round four qualifier was wide and should not have stood. On that occasion Wexford players and fans were furious with referee Derek Fahy for allowing Ian Ryan's last-gasp winning free to stand even though one of his umpires had waved it wide. The controversial point won the game for Limerick and ended Wexford's interest in the Sam Maguire for another season. Masterson commented at the time that players give up so much of their lives, train so hard, and sacrifice, what many would consider, a normal social life in their pursuit of success, only for a poor decision by a referee to deny them that opportunity.
I hope you do not get me wrong here as I have the utmost respect for referees. It is a difficult job and in lots of situations a thankless one. Two weeks ago NUIG were asked to facilitate a team with a challenge match. Within minutes of the game starting the referee was challenged by this team over decisions made and after 15 minutes of a continuous verbal abuse of the official I withdrew the NUIG team from the field of play. I was genuinely disgusted with what I was witnessing, and when the opposing manager refused to leave the field of play I decided enough was enough. The referee jumped in his car and headed for home and I could not blame him. By this stage I had our opponents on the night pleading with me to continue with the match. I did arrange for one of our substitutes to referee the remainder of the game, but not until I informed them that we would call it off again if there was any more verbal abuse of the replacement ref. They got the message.
I could not help but recall those incidents as I watched last Sunday’s Connacht championship final between Corofin and St Brigid’s. I knew while I watched the game that if Corofin lost the match there would be hell to play. As you will now know Mayo’s Liam Devenney was the official in charge of the match. Unfortunately the Ballina man had a poor game and understandably has come in for a lot of criticism all week, from the beaten finalists. In my opinion most of it was warranted. I recall at least 10 occasions throughout the match where he awarded frees against Corofin that left me dumbfounded. Devenney has not refereed a senior county final here in Mayo, which immediately begs a question regarding his suitability to referee a Connacht final. He did referee this year’s intermediate final though and I thought he had quite a good match on that occasion. Although not a pre requisite I think that the person appointed for last Sunday’s match should have officiated at a final in his own county before getting a nomination for a Connacht final. Consequently Devenney should not have to shoulder all of the blame for disallowing a perfect goal for Corofin and a free count of 2:1 in favour of Brigid’s. I honestly think this match required a more experienced referee. Having witnessed the ugly scenes immediately after the match when he was surrounded by an angry mob and chased all the way to the dressing room, my heart went out to him. He did not arrive at Kiltoom last Sunday intent on denying Corofin a Connacht title. It was just one of those occasions when he happened to have a poor match. I genuinely hope he is not turned away from officiating at future games because I am sure he will go on to have many better days than last Sunday.