The events of last Sunday at Croke Park provide a very rare opportunity to the GAA.
You see, in the vast majority of situations like this, you can find wiggle room. You can’t really prove that things would have been vastly different. A player might get sent off for something he didn’t do, but that doesn’t mean his team would have won if he had been on the pitch. Lampard might have equalised for England against Germany but that doesn’t mean England would have gone on to win the game. Sure, the resulting play would have differed, but you can’t possibly know what the score was.
This was different. It’s the 73rd minute. Seconds after the decision was made, the Louth keeper kicked the ball out and the referee blew the final whistle. The Meath goal was the penultimate action of the match, with the last action being nothing more than a clearance kick from the keeper, something that couldn’t effect the outcome of the game.
So when the referee sidled over to the umpire, they, more than anything either team had done over the past 70 minutes, were deciding who won the Leinster Title.
And they, very clearly, made the wrong call. An atrocious call. The only way I can see the decision being made in Meath’s favour is if the Umpires just did not see what happened clearly. Whether it was a player or a post blocking the way, they saw a ball in the net and decided to just call if for Meath and hope it was correct. I mean, two violations: carrying the ball over the line and then throwing it into the net.
It’s just not on. Leinster final, with the leading team having not one the provincial decider for 50 years? You have to do better than that if you’re wearing either all black or all-white.
Anyway, the Ref picked Meath to be the Leinster Champions, and that was that. Louth deserves the chance to try again. They were the better team, and taking away the goal, they won clean. The GAA has nothing to lose. They already have a precedent for this (Offaly/Clare 98), replays make good money, and in an age where officiating is under increasing criticism they’ll appear fair, balanced and generous.
But I doubt it. The GAA passed the buck to the Meath County Board, who promptly (but not so openly) passed it to the players by not making a quick decision. The panel doesn’t want to replay it, so it’s not going to happen.
So Louth get screwed, but will retain a huge amount of moral momentum going into the qualifiers. Meath win a Leinster title, but gain the hostility of much of the country.
Neither of these teams is going to win an All-Ireland this year, but we all know who the neutral wants out of the competition fast now. And it’s not the wee county.
And, lastly, if Dublin or Kerry were the wronged party here, a replay would already have been awarded. I haven’t a single doubt in my mind.