GAA Football

Off The Fence: Ref justice as Armagh faithful frustrated by by last-gasp defeat to Tipp

A last-gasp goal from Allstar Michael Quinlivan consigned Armagh to defeat at the hands of Tipperary on Sunday, and left them facing another year in Division Three. Picture by Ian Maginess
Neil Loughran

OFTEN there is an onus open whoever is compiling material for this column to set the scene for the potential carnage that is to follow.

Whether it’s a Down fan suggesting the dissolution of the county football team (February 16, 2017), Tyrone supporters calling for an end to Mickey Harte’s reign (several weeks between September 2010 and July 2016) or Armagh folk bemoaning their bad luck and criticising the team in equal measure (take your pick), collective views aired can require a certain amount of contextualising.

This week, there is no such need for explanation.

A world-weary sigh that would put have sent a shiver down the cloak of Darth Vader in a galaxy far, far away was the opening gambit of the opening message on the Off The Fence line.

This one exhalation expertly captured the sense of frustration for ‘Eamonn from Lurgan’ and, if the amount of correspondence we received from other Orchard men and women is anything to go by, an entire county following Sunday’s dramatic promotion-denying defeat to Tipperary.

“Awwww Jaysus,” gasped ‘Eamonn’, clearly just in the door from the Athletic Grounds on Sunday.

After another dramatic pause before clearing his throat, he summoned the energy to go again.

“What can I say about today’s match in Armagh? (“Awwww Jaysus” was a good start) I’m shell-shocked, but sure the writing was on the wall.

“Galway last year, couldn’t defend a lead, Sligo this year, Laois… to be truthful Antrim should’ve beat us only CJ McGourty didn’t convert his penalty.

“Michael Quinlivan is a class act, a great player, but three long balls in and he did the damage. Armagh just can’t put teams away.

“We do a lot of talking but we can’t walk the walk. Armagh, I dunno… I’m just gutted.”

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THE tone has been set, but we can’t stop there.

Because while ‘Eamonn’ and co come to terms with another season stuck in Division Three, much of the blame has been sent in the direction of the man in black (the one from a galaxy far, far away… or county Clare as it’s known to us Nordies).

“I’m very disappointed at the outcome of Sunday’s match,” said another caller.

“I acknowledge team and management made some mistakes. However, on their overall display Armagh did not deserve to lose.

“Would someone explain to me the motive for appointing a Clare referee for such an important game which involved his next door county? Notwithstanding the dubiousness of taking a referee from as far away as Clare to referee a match in Armagh?

“Kenny Archer's comment that Armagh had to work much harder for frees was a masterclass in understatement.”

A few callers mentioned about ref Rory Hickey being from Tipperary’s neighbouring county. Surely that should be an advantage for Armagh, if anything, or have I missed something? Who wants to see their neighbours doing well?

This is not the GAA I know.

There’s no doubt Hickey seemed to come down hard on Armagh but, as plenty of callers and emailers recognised, the Orchardmen should have had promotion sown up before Sunday.

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SOME readers vented their anger on Facebook - here’s a selection of those that wouldn’t end up with us all standing in front of a judge.

“The goalscorer should have never been allowed to get that goal,” said ‘Brenda Grimley’.

“One of the Armagh men should have taken a black card FOR THE TEAM (no need to shout!). They'd have had a free, over the bar, game over and Armagh win by one point.

“But the refereeing in general was BRUTAL.”

OKAY THANKS ‘BRENDA’

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‘STEWART McElroy’ was equally unimpressed by the quite frankly disgusting lack of cynicism on display from those in orange jerseys.

He said: “With the game over, why an Armagh player never took the responsibility to take a black card for the team is beyond me.

“Promotion would have being theirs especially when refs were dishing stupid black cards out in other games around the country.”

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OF course, for every critical comment comes another asking that you, yes you the reader, do as Michael Jackson instructed and look at the man in the mirror.

“Anyone blaming the referee needs to wise up,” said ‘Hugh Daly’.

“Does your club have a referee? Has he ever told you that he went out to beat a team? No, never. Yes, they have bad days, but Armagh cannot blame the ref.”

They can, and they have. The people have spoken

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THE last word on this topic is reserved for the anonymous lady who left this lip-smackingly carnivorous comment on our answering machine,

“There’s an old saying that one man’s meat is another man’s poison and yesterday at the Athletic Grounds, Tipperary got the meat - and I must say good luck to them.”

Sounds like you have a beef with Armagh

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LIKE Jerry Springer, I always like to conclude Off The Fence with a thought for the day.

With episode titles like ‘Best Frenemies’, ‘Guests get lit’ and my own personal favourite, ‘Cloudy with a chance of strippers’, you can understand why there were initial concerns about this tenuous link with the original tabloid talk show.

But I’m sticking with it because Jerry’s uplifting message at the end always provided a sense of clarity amongst all the madness.

And this week’s column ends with some positive vibes being sent the way of the Antrim footballers.

The Saffrons, like Armagh, suffered a gut-wrenching blow at the end of their home clash with Longford when they were relegated back to Division Four.

‘The Oracle’, however, sees plenty of room for encouragement.

“These young Saffrons, who suffered the ignominy of relegation on Sunday past, should keep their heads held high,” said ‘TO’.

“The new breed have stepped up to the plate this year, with the likes of Peter Healy, Paddy McAleer and Stephen Beatty giving some great performances across the league.

“This has been coupled with players such as Paddy McBride, who has been playing for a number of years now, really stepping into a leadership role within the team and thriving.

“There are the makings of a quality side here if all of the current squad stick at it, and I have no doubts we will bounce straight back up from Division Four.”

The future’s bright, the future’s Saffron? Only time will tell but this campaign should stand to the panel’s younger members in the years to come

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