04 Dec 2021

MAN BEHIND THE WIRE: McNamee acquittal raises questions for Offaly Hearings Committee

The man behind the wire: McNamee acquittal raises questions for Offaly Hearings Committee

Michael Brazil tussling for the ball with Darren Garry and Ciaran Heavey

THE result completely took the heat out of the debate but the decision by the Offaly GAA Hearings Committee to rescind Alan McNamee's red card for Sunday's Senior Football Championship final replay between Tullamore and Rhode proved a big source of conversation in the build up to the match.

The long serving Rhode midfielder had been sent off by referee Marius Stones in the first half of the drawn final against Tullamore two weeks ago. He had put in a heavy hit on Tullamore centre half forward, Diarmuid Egan and his dismissal loaded the odds in favour of Tullamore.

They didn't do the job on that occasion, instead becoming ultra cautious and defensive when the game was there to be won in the second half. Ironically, Tullamore did the job last Sunday against a full quota of Rhode players and with McNamee on the field.

First of all, no one would have liked to have seen Alan McNamee miss a county final replay at this stage of his career. McNamee has been a serious force of nature on the Offaly football scene for well over twenty years. He has won a record twelve Offaly senior football championship medals and his performances have been absolutely pivotal to Rhode's great success.

He has transcended the great Rhode teams of the modern era. He was a teen when they made the crucial breakthrough as Rhode won their first title in 23 years in 1998 – this was a massively important win for Rhode and it was followed by a few quite traumatic years as they suffered devastating defeats to Edenderry, Tullamore and Clara before returning to the summit in 2004.

That 2004 win was the start of the greatest, most sustained run by any Offaly club team. Rhode won the Dowling Cup again in 2004, '05, '06, '08, 2010, '12, '14, '16, '17, '18 and 2020. They weren't beaten in the group stages of the championship from 2001 until a 2019 defeat by Edenderry. It was an absolutely incredible record and Alan McNamee was at the epicentre of it all.

A common observation about Rhode's great run is that it would not have been achieved without Niall McNamee – a lot of people believe that if Niall McNamee was with any of their main contenders, they would have defeated Rhode in finals. It is of course a pointless debate as he wasn't and it also diminishes the many other excellent footballers that Rhode have. There is, however, absolutely no disputing the contribution of Niall McNamee to Rhode's success and his brilliance, his scores have won many a game for them and destroyed so many teams.

In the first decade of their great run, Paschal Kellaghan was hugely influential for Rhode, a man for the big day who nearly always performed for them. Brian Darby was their defensive lynchpin, Shane Sullivan had some great years but Alan McNamee was as important as anyone. In his prime, he was the best midfielder in Offaly club football. A great ball winning midfielder, his distribution was superb and the quality of the ball he directed into Niall was a big factor in many of their successes.

Alan McNamee also gave great service to Offaly, lining out in minor, U-21 and senior, playing 108 senior championship and league games from 2000 to 2013. It is a serious contribution and everyone in Offaly has the utmost of respect for him. He is a physical player – he likes his football hard and tough and he revels when it is at its most raw. He is a master at putting in big hits and asking questions of the character of players who come into his vicinity. He doesn't suffer fools gladly, he has occasionally played close to the line, yet it is to McNamee's immense credit that he very rarely strayed across the line. He has received cards but has been very rarely sent off at any level and his disciplinary record is excellent. That speaks volumes about the player.

There are still serious questions to be answered about the decision to free him up for Sunday's replay. Footage of his challenge on Diarmuid Egan circulated widely after the drawn game and there was divided opinion on whether Marius Stones was right to show a red card or not. Some people were adamant that it was a hard but fair challenge and he shouldn't have been sent off, many others believed that the referee got it right and the one-match ban should have stood.

It led to all sorts of conspiracy theories in Tullamore with some of their supporters claiming that it was all part of a grand County Board vendetta against them and that they were being punished for their part in the row over the O'Connor Park lease. Those theories don't deserve any consideration. There is no way that the Hearings Committee would have tried to settle any scores with Tullamore for the County Board, it simply couldn't and it didn't come into their deliberations. The Hearings Committee that dealt with this case would have allowed Alan McNamee back no matter who they were playing.

It doesn't make it right though. I have looked at Alan McNamee's challenge several times. He didn't go out to maim Diarmuid Egan and it is worth noting that the young Tullamore man shook McNamee's hands after he was sent off. However, the challenge was not shoulder to shoulder, it hit Egan in the front of his body and it could be classed as dangerous play, which is a sending off offence.

A weakened Hearings Committee dealt with the case. The chairman Pauric Pierce excused himself as his son Fintan was a linesman that day and was down to referee the replay. The secretary Padraig O'Meara had to pull out as Marius Stones is from his club Clara.

The Hearings Committee have a difficult job to do. They deal with any contested sending offs and it is great that players have an avenue of appeal, that miscarriages of justice can be overturned – and there are often players sent off wrongly. You need video evidence to get one overturned and Rhode and Alan McNamee were able to convince them that his challenge didn't qualify as dangerous play.

Ferbane's Joe Maher had got sent off in Ferbane's quarter-final win over Edenderry. His incident was off the ball and video evidence couldn't be produced to verify whether he should or shouldn't have been sent off. As a result he missed their semi-final against Tullamore and that was a game where his presence could have changed the destination of the Dowling Cup.

It is an anomaly but it is good that video evidence is required to get a player off. Back in the old days, witnesses would be produced by a player and club to argue his innocence and it was not uncommon for a player who received the mother and father of a haymaker to go in and try and get his opponent off. It is no harm that this sort of ludicrous situation can't occur.

The Offaly Hearings Committee will always be reluctant to deny a player a right to play in a county final or another big game. This year, they have consistently turned down appeals from players but the fact that a county final was at stake here and that McNamee has such a good record may possibly have been in the background of their decision here.

No matter what way they assessed it, this was a big decision. Just as the Hearings Committee have to be fair to the player sent off and his club, they also have to be fair to the opposition and the player who was on the receiving end – And Diarmuid Egan did end up in hospital that night with mild concussion, though thankfully he didn't miss any action.

And equally as important, they have to be fair to the referee. When they rescind a red card, they say one thing very clearly – that the referee was wrong and made a mistake. If a referee makes a mistake, a red card should be rescinded. There are occasional incidences of mistaken identity while sometimes a referee just gets it wrong on the spur of the moment – there have even been cases where a referee has admitted that he was wrong after viewing footage and that shows great strength of character.

In a sense, it was good that Alan McNamee played in the replay. It was good for the player that he played in another final. He may come back for another year but Alan McNamee is now at the end stage of his career and this could well be it, he may not play in another final. It was good for Tullamore that he played, though of course the conversation would be a very different one had Rhode won. It was good that they beat Rhode with their full quota of players on the field – they were missing the injured Eoin Rigney, Jake Kavanagh and Paul McPadden. While some of the Tullamore supporters were up in arms, it is doubtful if the decision occupied too much mind space for Niall Stack or his management. Alan McNamee remains capable of doing great things but at this stage of his career, he can't dominate games like old and Tullamore were winners of the midfield battle on Sunday.

It still leaves questions over the Hearings decision. They made it in good faith but when a red card is rescinded, it should be very clearly wrong. Anything else has an impact and no one wants to see referees reluctant to deal with bad tackles because of a fear of their decision being over turned. Was Marius Stones wrong to show Alan McNamee a red card? It is a matter of opinion, different views of the incident show different perspectives but it certainly didn't look to be a case where you could clearly state that the referee made an error.

Offaly GAA right to go ahead with SHC “B” final

THE Offaly GAA Competitions Control Committee have decided that the Senior “B” Hurling Championship final between Tullamore and Clodiagh Gaels must go ahead on Saturday and that is the correct decision.

Tullamore manager Niall Stack called for the game to be postponed after their Senior Football Championship final win over Rhode on Sunday – they are playing Naas in the Leinster Club championship on Sunday in Newbridge, meaning that Diarmuid Egan, Aaron Leavy, Luke Egan and Shane Dooley could be asked to play two games in 24 hours.

Representations were made to the Competitions Control Committee on Monday but with Covid-19 figures rising and uncertainty about what decisions the Government may take, they simply have to get their games played when they can.

It is likely that Tullamore hurling manager Kevin Martin wants the game to go ahead on Saturday and Clodiagh Gaels also wanted it to proceed.

Tullamore GAA have received the raw end of the stick from the CCC this year. They have had a shocking fixtures schedule with senior football, senior “B” hurling, U-20 football and U-20 hurling games each other week and some of their players have played too many games. The schedule resulted in Cormac Egan tearing his hamstring and other players getting knocks, missing game time as a result.

Offaly GAA should be protecting these young players and the U-20 competitions could have been put on the long finger – at the same time, it looks like all Offaly GAA competitions will be concluded in the coming fortnight and that is a serious achievement considering they had to finish off a number of outstanding 2020 championships before they commenced this year's competitions.

Tullamore should have been given a break a few weeks ago but on this occasion, they should take it on the chin and accept it. Tullamore will want to represent Offaly well in the Leinster club championship but they have never made any sort of an impact in it – they haven't won a game in it since 1977 and have often bowed out without a whimper. The Naas game is coming the week after a county final replay and it may be too soon for them – the county final celebrations continued on Monday and it will be very hard for Tullamore to come fully down in the coming days.

That is not to say they can't and won't beat Naas. Tullamore will be competitive and they could win but the Offaly title was their priority this year and anything else is a bonus at this stage. Their performances in the Leinster club championship is a major blemish on their record and it is something that Tullamore should be trying to right.

Getting the hurling final played is a bigger priority for Offaly GAA at the moment and Tullamore should just embrace it for what it is – put their best foot forward on Sunday but plan without starting any of the players who play big roles in the hurling final and use them in the second half if they are still in the hunt.

Clara book launch

A BIG launch of a new book on one of Clara's iconic footballing families will take place later this month. The book on the Nolan's has been put together by Billy Browne and will be launched in Clara GAA Centre on Saturday, November 27 at 8.00pm.

Peter, Willie, Johnny and Paddy Nolan made a fantastic contribution to Clara in the 1950s and 1960s, before emigrating to New York and England – Peter and Willie were Offaly football heroes before their departure. The book will also include details of the career of the Nolan's nephews, David, Willie, John and Ann Marie Reynolds.

Trivia corner

This week's answers are:

1 – How many men have won senior football and hurling medals in Offaly in the same season?

Answer: 13 (all Tullamore).

2 – When did two sets of three brothers start an All-Ireland club final for Birr?

Answer: 1998.

3 – When Offaly lost the 1973 National Football League final to Kerry, 2-12 to 0-14, how many Offaly forwards scored?

Answer: 1 (Tony McTague 0-12 with Eugene Mulligan and Willie Bryan scoring the other points).

This week's questions are:

1 – When Offaly lost the 1968 Leinster senior hurling semi-final to Kilkenny, 3-13 to 4-6, they played with fourteen men for fifty minutes. Who was sent off?

2 – Name the club that has had the shortest ever reign as senior football champions?

3 – When has a new name last gone on the Sean Robbins Cup for two years in succession?

Answers in the next column. With thanks to former referee Carthage Buckley for supplying the questions.

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