There was no disguising John Brennan’s frustration at the late dismissal of Conleith Gilligan as Derry missed out on a place in the league final on scoring difference following Laois’s defeat of Donegal.
The game was meandering to a tame conclusion, Derry in complete control, Antrim just playing out time before Armagh referee Padraig Hughes earned the wrath of all and sundry at Casement Park when he dismissed Gilligan and Antrim’s Aaron Douglas in the 72nd minute, literally seconds before the final whistle.
The two players became entangled on the ground in back play, a ‘nothing’ incident that warranted no more than yellow cards at most, a ticking off probably the right decision.
However Hughes who had been fussy and pedantic throughout, flashed red cards and the sustained cacophony of ‘booing’ from the Derry and Antrim supporters in the stand reflected accurately what the respective counties thought of the referee’s decision.
“I don’t like criticising officialdom but facts have to be stated,” explained Brennan, “The fact of the matter is he flashed yellow cards in Celtic Park and he carried on today. The first Antrim player (Sweeney) did not deserve to be sent off and the two at the end. What did they do? A wrestling match, nobody hurt, and then he blows the full time whistle.
“We prepare our team to go out and play football. We don’t prepare them to go out and do physical damage. I think officials have to ask themselves a serious question, are they refereeing or is it just to prove a point, so many yellow cards. That’s my reading of it. It can’t be otherwise because there is no other justification. It took away from the game. It’s disruptive and destroyed the game. It took away from our victory.”
“I have to hark back. We prepare our teams thoroughly every week, three or four times a week. And then a player like Conleith Gilligan, a fella who would not harm a fly, and that Antrim player, equally a very good fella, those two have suffered beyond belief. I am annoyed. I am lost for words. I do not want to say anything else because they could come back and do the same on me. I just think that people have got to get a DVD and look at that game themselves, not me but officialdom, and look at that game, and ask themselves serious questions.”
While the standard of refereeing clearly irked the Derry manager, he was also disappointed by aspects of the game itself, as well as Derry’s failure to gain promotion.
“The whole game was disjointed. There was no fluency. I thought we were disappointing in the first half. The game should have been well and truly over at half time. We did not take advantage of the sending off early on.”
Of the failure to gain promotion, “We were looking forward hopefully to get to Croke Park. I would have loved to have taken all those young fellas down to Croke Park. We have played 12 games this year. We have won ten games, more than any other county in Ireland. Those players deserve great credit.
“There’s a common denominator as to why we’re not in Croke Park. I have talked about what happened in this game and it happened to us in Celtic Park. We had players punished and as a result of that we lost our concentration. I don’t put that down to our players. I put it down to how we were treated.”
The Derry manager was certain there were positives to take from the McKenna Cup and National League campaigns.
“We have used 36 players since we started in early January and I have learned quite a bit about the panel. I looked at the fixtures pre-Christmas, and we have beaten the Ulster Champions, the Leinster champions, what many thought should have been the Connacht champions and Kildare who possibly should have been in last year’s All Ireland final. So there are a lot of positives to be taken from the league campaign.”