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tough job Pressure is on referee Joe McQuillan to steer Mayo-Tyrone All-Ireland final through various battles of will

McQuillan will need to be very strict to control battle for physical domination


Dublin's Brian Mullins is sent off by referee John Gough as a Galway player lies on the ground during the infamous 1983 All-Ireland football final. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Dublin's Brian Mullins is sent off by referee John Gough as a Galway player lies on the ground during the infamous 1983 All-Ireland football final. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Joe McQuillan

Joe McQuillan


Dublin's Brian Mullins is sent off by referee John Gough as a Galway player lies on the ground during the infamous 1983 All-Ireland football final. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

In the week before the 1983 Dublin-Galway All-Ireland final, I phoned John Gough, who was due to referee the game. Back then, players, managers and even referees talked openly in interviews, unlike nowadays when even the small minority who say anything are more guarded than international diplomats.

I wasn’t interested in a diary of upcoming big Gough’s day, but rather if he had any opinion on what type of game we could expect and how he would handle it. He had.

In fact, after refereeing both counties earlier in the year, he was happily prepared to offer his views on their respective style and approach. Dublin, he stated, “play a more physical brand of football than Galway”.

They were “much harder tacklers who play a close type of game”. Galway were “looser” and preferred “a more open game”. Still, he expected them to have “specific plans for what they regard as a few key Dublin players”.

Gough said he didn’t mind what type of game unfolded. He promised to “help the players all the way” and saw “no reason why we shouldn’t have a great game”. How wrong can you be! It turned out to be the ugliest final of all time as two counties with no previous history of animosity between them disgraced themselves and the GAA.

Four players (three Dublin, one Galway) were sent off and Galway lost midfielder Brian Talty with an injury sustained in the tunnel at half-time.

Gough later said he would have sent off a second Galway man except he wasn’t 100pc sure of his number in an off-the-ball incident.

Concerned that Gough’s published comments on the teams had been unhelpful, Croke Park made it clear to referees before the start of the 1984 season that they didn’t want commenting on teams. They felt that however innocent it might appear, it could create a perception of unconscious bias, one way or the other.

It’s an aspect of refereeing that’s rarely discussed because there’s no way of knowing if it applies. Joe McQuillan, who takes charge of Mayo v Tyrone on Saturday, wasn’t accused directly of unconscious bias after the 2011 All-Ireland, but then Kerry manager Jack O’Connor raised some interesting points about his familiarity with Dublin, who staged a late rally to win by a point.

McQuillan refereed four of Dublin’s six championship games in 2011, as well as their league final clash with Cork, a sequence which O’Connor described as “very unusual”.

“It’s a massive advantage to have a referee that knows your style and your style of tackling. We thought his interpretation of our tackling and their tackling (Dublin) was different. We weren’t happy,” said O’Connor.

A losing manager criticising a referee is almost an automatic reaction, but McQuillan found himself under fire from the winning side in 2013 when, in an extraordinary outburst, Jim Gavin claimed that “not only were we playing Mayo, we were playing the referee as well” after Dublin’s All-Ireland final win. The free count (Mayo 32, Dublin 12) infuriated Gavin. “Not acceptable. We work very hard on the art of defending and the technical tackle,” he said.

What did McQuillan make of it all? Referees don’t talk about matters like that, but the fact remained that in his first two All-Ireland finals, he was criticised by both losers and winners.

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In 2017, when McQuillan refereed his third final, he again awarded Dublin 12 frees, but this time Mayo got only three more on a day when ‘letting it flow’ appeared a priority. What will his fourth final be like? If it’s a repeat of the 2017 approach then it could become a very fractious affair.

I’m not predicting a 1983-like embarrassment, but I believe that McQuillan will have to deliver an outstanding performance to steer this game through various battles of will. Establishing physical dominance will be crucial to both sides, creating a contest where ‘letting it flow’ won’t work. Tyrone have always been noted for a hard edge, something that has continued under new management.

Also, Mayo will no doubt recall the 2015 All-Ireland U-21 final, when a Tyrone side led by current co-manager Feargal Logan was accused of cynicism by Tipperary after their one-point defeat. Tipp were so incensed that they denied Logan access to their dressing-room afterwards.

On the other side, Tyrone will have noted how Mayo cynically took out Galway’s best forward, Shane Walsh, off the ball in the Connacht final. Walsh’s colleagues meekly accepted it, but Tyrone’s response will be very different if one of their star acts gets similar treatment.

On all fronts, McQuillan and his team had better be on their game.

Note to Tribes and Lilies: shop local this time

And the vacancies keep on coming! Galway (hurling), Cork and Kildare (football) are looking for new managers after the departures of Shane O’Neill, Ronan McCarthy and Jack O’Connor respectively.

The one certainty about the replacement processes is that Cork will appoint from within. Even after dropping to their lowest ebb for decades over recent years, they won’t look beyond the county boundary for McCarthy’s replacement.

Quite right too, since a county like Cork should be self-reliant. So too should Galway, yet when Micheál Donoghue left in 2018, they looked to Limerick and Shane O’Neill, who hadn’t previously managed at inter-county level.

It was an inexplicably insecure decision in a county which had won the 2017 All-Ireland and, unsurprisingly, it backfired.

O’Connor was the latest in Kildare’s foreign policy initiatives and given how it ended could hardly be described as a great success.

Note to Galway and Kildare: shop local next time.

New territory for favourites Mayo

Just how will Mayo cope in their brand new territory?

For the first time ever (no odds were available when they last won the All-Ireland 70 years ago), they will go into the final as favourites.

The odds have tightened in recent days but it looks as if the markets will still have them as marginal fancies all the way to throw-in.

They were outsiders in their previous 11 finals in 1989-1996 (draw and replay) -1997-2004-2006-2012-2013-2016 (draw and replay)-2017-2020 and never succeeded in upsetting the odds. It’s different this time.

Their win over Dublin is obviously regarded as a more reliable pointer than Tyrone’s success over Kerry – hence their favourites’ rating.

It’s quite a good place to be as pre-match fancies have an excellent record in All-Ireland finals. Donegal in 2014 were the last favourites to lose. Kerry (2011) also lost but that’s only two from ten in the last decade.

Being outsiders won’t worry Tyrone, who have often thrived against the odds.

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