With the departure of Jim McGuinness, perhaps the only straight-talking GAA manager left standing is Brian Cody. The Kilkenny man was castigated for his comments about Brian Kelly, who refereed the drawn All-Ireland senior hurling final at the beginning of September. In Hurler’s opinion, Cody was entirely correct in his assessment of Kelly but it would appear that criticism of referees by football and hurling managers is a taboo area. Why?
At the time, watching on television, Hurler was of the opinion that Kelly had made a catastrophic mistake in stoppage time of the All-Ireland senior hurling final. Kelly, who didn’t look comfortable all afternoon, adjudged Kilkenny forward Brian Hogan to have charged into Tipperary defender Padraic Maher and awarded a free against Hogan. Despite the fact that Hurler was rooting for Tipperary, this column was of the opinion that Kelly had made a huge call against Kilkenny.
Hurler, who’s default position would always be to favour the defender, was absolutely certain in this instance that it was Maher who had been at fault. Many’s the time Hurler body-checked players in a similar manner – albeit many levels down the hurling rung – and without exception such tackles were penalised by a free.
Far from meeting him with a fair shoulder, as suggested on TV, Maher upended Hogan. Hogan hit the turf hard but, in fairness to him, immediately played the ball off to the side. In other words, he hadn’t gone looking for the free. Kelly, however, had already blown his whistle and was pointing towards the Davin End – free to Tipp! He was wrong. If he was going to blow at all, it was Kilkenny’s free.
The score stood at 3-22 to 1-28, or 31 points each. This was the Premier County’s chance to snatch it. Up stepped John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer to hit the free from inside his own half and with the wind in his back. He drove it inches wide. The umpire hadn’t a clue if it was over or not but thankfully had the good sense to call for Hawk-Eye. Amid dramatic scenes Hawk-Eye revealed that Bubbles’ shot had flashed just the wrong side of the right-hand post.
It had been an absolute hum-dinger of a final – one of the best hurley matches this column has ever seen. But it nearly ended in catastrophe. Clare McNamara for The Sunday Game interviewed Brian Cody afterwards and Hurler was waiting for him to cut loose at Kelly. He would have been quite entitled to let rip there and then but he held his counsel.
In the event, Cody waited until after the replay – won by Kilkenny – before he made his feelings known. On the day after the replay Cody described Kelly’s stoppage-time decision in the drawn game as ‘criminal’.
“At the end of the day [Tipperary] were handed an opportunity with the last puck of the game the last day in the wrong to win the game. They were handed an opportunity by a complete wrong decision. We didn’t speak about it the last day but it was criminal what was done the last day. And people can say that I am whingeing and moaning all they like but I am telling the truth here,” Cody told the assembled media in CityWest.
He further contended that it should have been a free to Kilkenny, but said he wouldn’t have objected had Kelly waved play on: “If he had said ‘play on’ I would have said fair enough. I could say maybe it might have been a free for us, I wouldn’t worry about it. If the ball broke and they put it over the bar fair enough but you don’t hand a team a free puck and say ‘lads, there you go’. It was like that.”
His comments attracted a deluge of criticism down on top of the Kilkenny manager. Out of taste, uncalled for, nasty – seemed to be the conventional wisdom. Joe Brolly was among the GAA pundits who castigated Cody for his comments.
Hurler disagrees. Cody is doing the game a service by “outing” a referee who made a colossal error on hurling’s biggest Sunday. Rather than slate Cody for not being gracious, the GAA should be pressing every panic button at their disposal that the man they deemed most worthy to officiate the All-Ireland Final wasn’t up to the job. Instead, all the talk is of fines and suspensions to punish Cody’s misdemeanor in calling a spade a spade.
Westmeath chairman Sean Sheridan was out like a shot to defend fellow county man Kelly, and to talk a lot of balls about Cody’s use of the word criminal: “Barry Kelly is an outstanding referee. This was his fourth All-Ireland final. I wouldn’t tolerate what Brian Cody said and I wish he could think about it and revise his statement. We will be taking it further down the line. It was insulting to Barry Kelly and his family. That game is over and done with. Kilkenny won the replay. I wouldn’t expect that from Brian Cody. I just wonder what he makes of the word ‘criminal’ because it means a lot of things to me. That was very unwarranted.”
Nonsense. Only for Hawk-Eye, Kilkenny would be runners-up, not champions. Brian Cody and the Kilkenny hurling squad give everything they’ve got, over nine or ten months every year, to reach All-Ireland finals. When they get there they are quite entitled to expect quality officiating.
Sheridan was right about one thing: Barry Kelly has experience of the big day. He was in charge of the 2012 final, too, when he awarded the softest of injury time frees to Galway giving Joe Canning the opportunity to equalise with the last puck of the game.
Sean Sheridan, Brian Kelly and – no doubt whatsoever – GAA director general Páraic Duffy, would much prefer if ‘troublesome’ managers such as Brian Cody would hush about dodgy referees – even if the wrong name ends up engraved into hurling’s hall of fame. And if you think that’s an exaggeration, think back to the 2010 Leinster football final when Tyrone referee Martin Sludden and his bumbling umpires diddled Louth out of a first Leinster SFC title in half a century. Sludden is still refereeing and the GAA did absolutely nothing to placate Louth’s legitimate grievances.
Players and managers are under extreme pressure to perform at the top level. So too are referees. All are human but it is incumbent on the GAA to strive for refereeing excellence – the same sort of excellence that has brought Kilkenny ten All-Ireland titles under Brian Cody. The GAA was able to introduce a Football Review Committee with a click of the Top Table’s fingers because they didn’t like the way football was evolving (read Tyrone and Donegal into that) – what about setting up an emergency committee to sort the glaring inconsistencies in refereeing standards?
Hurler was of the opinion that last month’s All-Ireland SFC Final between Donegal and Kerry was very badly refereed and was genuinely of the opinion that Donegal were denied two score-able frees and a ’45 in the first quarter by referee Eddie Kinsella. On a day when Donegal needed everything going, and on a day when Michael Murphy was deadly accurate from frees, that would have made a difference. Eddie Kinsella certainly wasn’t the only reason Donegal lost the All-Ireland, but he was one of them.
It happens at all levels. An Inishowen footballer received a black card at the weekend for questioning a referee who informed him that he had blown the whistle because the player in question had taken “four steps”. Yes, that’s right, four steps. When the player informed the official that he was entitled, according to the rules of the game, to take four steps before being required to solo, bounce or pass the ball, he was sent to the line for his impudence. You couldn’t make it up!
It’s endemic. Fair play to Brian Cody for calling it as he sees it for most of these boys haven’t got a bloody clue.
Make sure you buy this weeks Inishowen Independent to see what the Hurler has to say this week.