AT THE last World Cup, Portugal and the Netherlands met at the knock-out stages of the competition.
I can’t remember which team advanced but one other detail of the game I can clearly recall. It was the most memorable refereeing performances of all time.
Valentin Ivanov was the unfortunate man who officiated at the game (and hasn’t taken charge at this level since). He made a decision that he wasn’t going to take any indiscipline from any side and that he was going to lay down the law from the start.
What transpired was a refereeing disaster of tsunami proportions. Ivanov administered a yellow card early on for a particularly bruising tackle. His mistake was this: the concept of discretion did not exist for the rest of the game. He applied the law rigidly, adhered to the standard that he had applied from the get-go. What we witnessed was an unravelling.
The game gradually descended into an unspeakable farce, a yellow and red card fest that just did not relent. By the time the game ended, 16 yellow cards and four reds had been shown. The four red cards were the most in a single World Cup game ever. In the last couple of minutes, players, pushed to beyond frustration by the referee, began making impetuous tackles and fouls.
And what was clear was this: the referee who had set out to show he was in control in such a strong fashion was clearly not in control. Any authority he had striven to assert had been shorn off him by the time the game began ticking into injury time.
I was reminded of all that watching John O’Donoghue endure his first day as Ceann Comhairle last Tuesday. One of the features of the last Dáil was the frequent clashes between his predecessor Rory O’Hanlon and Labour leader Pat Rabbitte, mostly over Rabbitte’s remote understanding of what constituted two minutes of speaking time. Very often Leader’s Questions would go 15 or 20 minutes over the time allotted to it. To be sure, one of the biggest miscreants when it came to time-keeping was the chief anorak himself on the Government benches but the Ceann Comhairle was never in the habit of telling the emperor about the state of his undress.
You could see where O’Donoghue was coming from. He wanted to impose himself like a strong referee from the get-go, hand out a yellow card for the first heavy tackle, and by imposing his authority early, the House would quickly come to heel.
His mistake was that he picked the wrong target. Enda Kenny was never the worst offender when it came to time-keeping — you could have counted on one hand the times that he and the chair had clashed over time-keeping.
And, despite the good-humoured and youthful smile that Kenny maintained throughout their exchanges, there is a bit of the old dog for the hard road about him (he is the father of the House after all — having been elected 32 years ago).
As O’Donoghue slapped him on the wrist for going over time, Kenny began gently goading him. You could almost see him light the match and quietly place it up to the very short fuse, put his fingers into his ear, and wait for the deafening explosion to go off.
He started off by telling O’Donoghue to be quiet. O’Donoghue was out of his chair quicker than dung off a shovel, and his complexion (always fleshy) began to deepen to scarlet with the heat being generated with his tongue.
The more he lambasted Kenny, the more Kenny and his troops began doing what the picadors in a bullfight too — sticking the spears into the flesh of the Bull O’Donoghue.
Before we get carried away with the ‘bull’ analogy, it’s time to return to football and to great refereeing moments of our time. Once he had brandished the first yellow card, there was no return. Within minutes, he was flashing them constantly and it was inevitable that the red card would have to be produced.
The problem was there was no saving face. If he backed down, he lost. If he persevered and ploughed on, he also lost. It was incredible. Arthur Morgan and Michael Ring joined the fray. The stuff with Ring was like a pantomime. You are leaving the chamber! Oh no, I’m not. Yes, you are leaving? No I am not.
Over the past four years since I first sat on the bird’s nest above the chamber, there have been some disruptive scenes. But it was the first time that the Ceann Comhairle provided the start, beginning and end of them.
To be sure, Fianna Fáil are going into government for a third time. But with the opposition benches packed to the rafters — and with a Ceann Comhairle as colourful as O’Donoghue — I think we will witness interesting times!
This is my column from today's Irish Examiner. (I am on leave for the next few weeks so blog entries will be sporadic!)