GAA Football

Dismissal of Kildare's Eoin Doyle was a harsh lesson that will be remembered

Kildare captain Eoin Doyle received a second yellow card last Sunday for playing without a mouthguard. Pic Seamus Loughran

BELEIVE it or knot, eye was a good speler at primary scool.

I’m not suggesting I was anywhere near the levels of those prodigies who win spelling bees by correctly rhyming off the right letters for words such as Laodicean, cymotrichous, or stichomythia.

However, apparently I didn’t get a spelling wrong in any tests for several years. The only reason I remember that fact – as I may or may not have told you before, I am rather forgetful – is due to an unforgettable (for me) public humiliation.

When my teacher had picked herself up off the floor at noticing my error, she called me up to her desk, and announced to the entire classroom that I had made my first spelling mistake for years.

To be fair to her, I think her intention was to point out how remarkable an achievement that was.

All the while, though, my admittedly already rosy cheeks burned with embarrassment.

I’m still too embarrassed now to reveal what the word was, as it would shatter the civilised culchie image I’ve cultivated in recent years.

However, although I partly blamed her pronunciation, let me assure you that I have never forgotten how to spell that particular word. I may even work out a way to get it onto my headstone.

To this day, if I’m unsure of a spelling, I’ll check it in a dictionary (remember them?) or online.

‘What’s this all got to do with sport?’, you may well ask.

Well, standing at the front of the metaphorical GAA classroom, his cheeks ablaze, is Kildare captain Eoin Doyle.

The Lilywhites skipper was dismissed early on against Donegal on Sunday, his second yellow card shown because he participated in play after referee David Gough had told him to leave the pitch and replace his gumshield/ mouthguard.

Those protective devices have been obligatory in Gaelic football for all grades up to minor for five years now, and for four years at U21 and adult levels.

An official GAA statement issued before the decision by the 2012 Annual Congress came into force, warned:

‘Significantly, if a player refuses to comply he can be sent-off and players will not be covered under the GAA Player Injury Scheme if they are not wearing a mouthguard.’

Yet Sunday’s scenario was certainly the first high-profile scenario of a player being red-carded (at least in part) for not wearing a mouthguard.

As such, it understandably provoked some debate. The narrative arc following such controversies can veer around wildly.

My initial reaction, and probably that of many, was ‘WTF?! What a petty, harsh referee!’ (even though Gough is by far one of the best officials, in my estimation).

Then, as the rule-knowers jumped in on Twitter, the story became ‘What an idiot Doyle was! He was warned and still played on!’

Next came the claim that Doyle had only reacted instinctively in catching the kick-out from his goalkeeper, who was utterly unaware of all that was going on, and you thought ‘…Yeah, I’d have caught that ball too (or at least tried to)…’

What’s indisputable, though, is that Doyle won’t play a single second without a mouthguard again. Ever.

Nor will many, if any, players; at least not for quite some time, and not while David Gough is on the pitch anyway.

Like my old teacher, Gough’s intentions were good. The mouthguard rule is about protecting players from injury, although it’s also in part about protecting the GAA from costly insurance claims for dental treatment.

At the time the new rule was introduced, the GAA explained the rationale behind it: ‘Research figures indicate that Ireland has one of the highest rates of sport-related oral injuries in the EU, with one third of all adult dental injuries being sports-related.

‘In many sports such as rugby and hockey, the wearing of gumshields is the norm with nearly all clubs adhering strictly to a 'no gumshield - no game' rule.

RTE pundit (and fellow Meathman) Colm O’Rourke insisted that Gough is always consistent about the wearing of gumshield/ mouthguards.

In tooth – sorry – truth, Gough probably wouldn’t have shown Doyle the (second) yellow card if he’d remembered that he’d already issued him with one earlier. Then again, being a referee, he might have.

O’Rourke also made the interesting observation that referees can tell if a player isn’t wearing a gumshield because they can hear them arguing/ talking back to them. That makes sense: ‘slabbering’ or ‘mouthing’ is not easy when you’re biting on moulded plastic.

Perhaps fittingly, the punishment is listed under ‘Rule 6 – Dissent’, to be exact, part 6.2:

`To fail to comply with a Referee’s instruction to use a mouth guard.

Penalty - Caution the offender; order off if he persists.’

Kildare manager Cian O’Neill claimed that play should have been stopped in order to allow Doyle time to replace his gumshield. That may seem sensible but few want any more stoppages apart from for serious injuries.

The punishment was harsh, Doyle’s departure surely contributing to Kildare’s narrow loss in a basement battle.

Yet players now know very clearly that it’s up to them to replace their mouthguard as soon as the referee tells them to do so, without participating in play in any way.

As I found, harsh lessons are often those best remembered.

If it’s any consolation to Doyle, he will become the answer to a quiz question. Let’s hope people spell his first name properly.

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