Issue 4-2022 small

4 December 2008 Edition

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More than a game BY MATT TREACY

AS some of you may have noticed over the years, I am not a great fan of the use of video evidence to indict players after matches unless the camera happens to pick up a particularly nasty off-the-ball incident that does serious damage to another player. Too often, however, the camera is used to conduct mini show-trials of players on The Sunday Game, as occurred on one or two occasions during the summer. And what made that worse was that the incidents seem to be chosen more or less at the whim of the panel or the host, as was blatantly obvious indeed in one incident where a certain chap was exonerated, something perhaps not unrelated to the fact that he was from the same county as the man in the chair!
However, I will make an exception to this, and it relates to the above incident. This is where a player takes a dive in order to convince the referee that he has been the victim of an assault and gets the alleged perpetrator sent off. The latest example of this came last Sunday in the Ulster club football final between Crossmaglen and Ballinderry in Brewster Park.
Even from the television it was quite obvious that there was a lot going on and several incidents were, in fact, captured on camera. One ‘Cross player in a particular off-the-ball ‘challenge’ adjudged (correctly) that the ref was looking the other way, but not the ‘All-Seeing Eye’. Several times play was also held up as the referee had to deal with something that had happened behind his back. Or had something happened?

YOU see, that is the problem. The referee in question, Martin Sludden, was criticised after the game but, in fairness to him, if he is following the play and a linesman or umpire, or the noise of the crowd, calls his attention back to some fella rolling around on the ground 60 yards away, he is placed in an invidious situation.
The normal reaction is to assume that the player on the ground has been the recipient of an off-the-ball assault. If none of the officials saw anything then do you take the chap’s theatrics at face value and penalise his alleged attacker, or the opposing player nearest to him as your best guess, or do you ignore the crowd and, because there is no official evidence, let the game proceed?
It would all be a lot simpler if you could actually accept the evidence of your own eyes. Player rolling on the ground in death agony = evidence of assault.
Unfortunately, you cannot make that assumption because too many players - actually, let’s call a spade a spade here: too many top-level senior footballers - are prepared to cheat. Enter one Darren Conway of Ballinderry.
At a crucial stage in the match he was running towards the ‘Cross goal with John McEntee in close pursuit. McEntee attempted to tackle Conway. Conway went to ground, holding his head, and remained on the ground until Sludden had dispatched the Armagh man with a straight red that ought to mean he misses the replay.
The only problem is that unless Padre Pio was flying below the radar on account of air conditions and dropped his elbow, no-one hit poor Darren in the face at all. Indeed, having watched the incident several times, even McEntee’s actual challenge could hardly have been said to be over the top. If there was contact it was to the midrif.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, the conclusion is that Darren was acting the goat, successfully, and the sending off in the wrong had a direct impact on the result of the game which the Derry side equalised, thanks to a Niall McCusker goal and two late points.

BECAUSE of the indisputable fact that Conway did take a dive, McEntee’s appeal against suspension is likely to be successful. Fair enough, but the matter ought not to rest there.
Here is a golden opportunity at the end of a year that saw numerous incidents of this sort in top-level games to put down a marker, as they say.
Conway cannot be suspended because his offence does not technically exist under the current GAA rule book! It ought to and it is about time that one of the legion of barrack-room lawyers in clubs the length and breadth of this country devoted their forensic talents to framing such a rule to be placed before Congress as soon as possible and certainly prior to the commencement of next year’s football championship when, once again, we will be treated to thespian displays unequalled in many a rural location since the days of Anew McMasters fit-ups.
GAA people are rightly contemptuous of soccer players who take dives but at least the referee in soccer is able to punish the perpetrators by booking them. Here the worst punishment is the derision of other fans, which is poor consolation if the dive has cost you a match, or Colm O’Rourke calling the perpetrator “unmanly”.
The Meathman’s distaste for the practice is no doubt heightened by the knowledge that had he essayed a dive in the company of the Dublin backs of the 1980s and 1990s he would not only have had to take the consequences from them but have had to meet Mick Lyons and the boys in the dressing room!

An Phoblacht
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