What do forwards need to do to get proper protection?

I’ve seen it often enough as a spectator and manager and have been on the receiving end of it numerous times as a player. But how many times do we see a forward getting sent off for lashing out at his opponent, having not received any type of protection from officials, which include umpires, linesmen and the referee?

The reason why I write that is because a forward can be antagonised for the majority of a game by the defender marking them – this can be verbally or it can be in the form of contact – yet when enough is enough, they are often the ones caught out and the card is issued. 

I’m not blaming the referees for issuing the cards – if you are caught doing something outside of the rules of the game then you deserve to receive your punishment. By no means are all forwards angels, in fact some are far from it, but how often does a forward go out with a mindset that he is going to target his opponent in this manner and run the risk of getting sent off?

A referee should realise that two are playing that same game and if he notices a forward lashing out at his opponent 99% of the time there is a damn good reason for it. Of course, you can say I am being biased here but I understand the frustrations sometimes when there doesn’t seem to be any protection whatsoever offered to forwards. Playing alongside Ronan Clarke for a large part of my Armagh career, I never saw any player take as many hits and get as much hassle as he did, but because he was physically very strong and a big man, quite often he did not receive the frees he should have. Part of me thinks that the referees were probably saying, “sure, he’s a big lad, he is well fit for that type of abuse.”

The only time I was sent off in a championship match for Armagh was against Monaghan in 2009. I fully deserved to get sent off because I was foolish enough to get caught lashing out at my opponent in full view of the referee. However, I didn’t deserve to receive abuse for 60-odd minutes or so beforehand, so frustration finally got the better of me and I hit out. 

Did I regret getting sent off? I can’t say hand on heart that I did because I didn’t have a lot of love for that particular opponent but I knew I let my team-mates down at that time and that is what was annoying. 

We ask players all the time to play with their heads up and to scan all around them to see what is developing, so maybe it’s not a bad thing for officials to scan the field also, because getting wrapped in an Aussie Rules style tackle when a ball is nowhere near you, as I have witnessed quite recently, should definitely not be allowed to happen. 

As for the All-Ireland semi-final pairings, well they have an all too familiar look about them. The four teams still standing consistently get themselves to this stage of the competition because they are the best four teams out there, with strength in depth in their squads. 

What they also have is that winning mentality and unless you possess that type of mindset from playing in the big games, it is very hard to instil. The semi-finals will be two very intriguing contests, with Dublin not currently playing with the same flair and swagger as they have done in previous years, but their opponents Mayo will be without their score-getter in chief, Cillian O’Connor and in this type of game, that will count for a lot. It’s hard to look past Dublin, but it’s not a final therefore there may be less pressure on Mayo to put in a performance and they might just be able to rise to that challenge. 

The recent National league match between Kerry and Tyrone, when the Kingdom dished out a beating, will have no bearing on their semi-final whatsoever, but based on what I have seen in the championship so far Kerry look the team to beat, and Tyrone’s main players all need to hit a nine out of 10 level of performance to beat them. I can’t see this happening and I can see Kerry going all the way this year to claim their first All-Ireland title since 2014.

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