“Accepting that injustice is as much a feature of sport as good fortune is a huge part of being a sportsperson”
IT WAS impossible not to have sympathy for young Donal Tuohy last week. The Clare Under-21 goalkeeper’s final puck-out led to a free being awarded to Clare that left them with a gilt-edged chance of winning the Munster title. Their first.
Then play was recalled, the referee consulted with the umpire at Tuohy’s end of the field and a free in was awarded to Tipperary instead, as the ‘keeper had stepped beyond the small parallelogram in the course of his strike. Tipp’ scored and won.
What happened on the pitch afterwards, when the referee and umpire were surrounded and abused, was indefensible. The refereeing decision itself was a correct one, after all, while the persistence of the umpire in drawing his attention to it when play had developed in a potentially match-winning way for Clare was brave in the extreme. The problem – in both codes – is the inconsistency of the application of certain rules.
But, while one can understand the frustration of teams and fans who get annoyed when they believe they have been denied victory, attacking the referee and umpire flies in the face of what sport is supposed to be about. Training hard and making lots of personal sacrifices does not alone a sportsperson make. Accepting that injustice is as much a feature of sport as good fortune is also a huge part.
Tuohy isn’t the first to suffer, nor are Clare the first to lose in what they believe to be unfair circumstances. The history of the GAA is littered with injustices, and perceived injustices, and the argument that players train harder now and therefore injustices somehow impact more on them than they did on previous generations is ridiculous.
In Mayo we know all about injustice. The players on the senior football team that played Cavan in the 1948 All-Ireland Final may not have spent three nights a week in the gym all winter and the whole summer without a holiday, but losing that final by a single point after the final whistle was blown early surely stayed with them all their lives. Mayo went on to win two All-Irelands in 1950 and 1951, but not every member of the the ‘48 team made it that far, meaning that an All-Ireland medal eluded players who deserved one as much as the unfortunate Mayo players of 1996 did.
Nor does previous glory make cruel defeat any easier to take. Just ask Mick O’Dwyer, Mikey Sheehy, Eoin Liston et al from the great Kerry team of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Did the four previous All-Irelands compensate for the heartbreak of losing to Seamus Darby’s late, controversial goal in the 1982 final? Of course not. O’Dwyer said he didn’t leave Waterville for six to eight weeks afterwards, so great was his devastation. And while few had sympathy for Kerry, winning a fifth title in a row was as coveted an ambition for them as winning a first was for Offaly. It would have immortalised them.
Individuals, too, have suffered. In 1993, Cork’s Tony Davis was sent off wrongly in the All-Ireland final and he watched from the sideline as his team lost to Derry by three points. In 1978, Paddy Cullen had the most bizarre goal of all time scored against him when Kerry’s Mikey Sheehy lobbed him from distance as he remonstrated with the referee. Kerry won the game by 17 points in the end, but the incident shook Cullen’s confidence for the rest of the game, and not just any game: an All-Ireland final in which they were bidding for three-in-a-row.
There have been as many examples of injustices and freak decisions as there have been heroic match-winning scores. But it comes with the territory of sport. It won’t make Donal Tuohy feel any better this week, but acceptance may settle on his unfortunate shoulders in time. Who knows, it may even make him a stronger and better player.
Meeting with triumph is the easy part of being a sportsperson – or a sports team – coming face to face with disaster is the real test. Kipling had it right.