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‘John Small had no real malice in what he was doing. But the referee got it wrong no matter what way you look at it’

As Mayo bask in the glory of a first Championship victory over Dublin, their nemesis of the last decade, since 2012, it’s hard not to feel an enormous amount of sympathy for Eoghan McLaughlin.

hrough no fault of his own, the Mayo defender finds himself most likely out of the All-Ireland final against Kerry or Tyrone and at the centre of what’s become one of the main talking points since Mayo’s stunning comeback win.

Opinion has been divided amongst former players in relation to John Small’s hit on the Westport clubman with many, such as Colm Cooper and Oisin McConville calling it a definite red card while ex-Dublin boss Pillar Caffrey adamant it wasn’t even a foul.

Former Mayo player and RTE co-commentator Kevin McStay even went as far as revising his initial opinion from the time of the incident where he called it a fair hit to now label the challenge “wild and dangerous”

However, where there is nearly uniform agreement is in criticism of referee Conor Lane’s decision to allow play to continue when McLaughlin was clearly in distress on hitting the ground. An error that could have been further compounded had Colm Basquel not missed a glorious opportunity to find the net from the resultant attack and in all likelihood put the game beyond Mayo.

Asked for his opinion on the challenge as part of the panel on The Throw-In, Independent.ie’s GAA podcast in association with Bord Gais Energy, Mayo great David Brady struck a conciliatory tone in relation to Small but was baffled as to why the game had not been stopped.

“My view is (firstly) to wish Eoghan McLaughlan a speedy recovery from an absolutely horrific injury. Breaking your jaw in two places is a serious injury to carry. I know myself from doing it in my time, you carry that for the rest of your life,” the three-time All-Ireland runner-up said.

“Let’s be straight. No matter if you’re looking at it on Twitter, or replaying it or pausing it or stopping it, I feel as a player, at times you just line up someone. John Small had no real malice in what he was doing. He didn’t intend to break his jaw.

“You line up a player and he got it wrong. But more importantly, the referee got it wrong no matter what way you look at it.

“You knew that Eoghan McLaughlin was gone. He was gone. He was knocked out hitting the ground.

“That’s the time you blow. If the referee didn’t see the free, so be it but he stops the play when somebody needs attention or help.”

But while the injury may have cost Mayo the services of one of their most promising young players in their efforts to finally bury that 70-year hoodoo, Brady also believes that the incident helped swing the semi-final in his native counties favour.

And it wasn’t just the sense of injustice that caused that swing but also the performance of the officials as Mayo began to reel the Dubs in, according to the Ballina man.

“I do think that that incident affected the game. And it affected it in a positive way for Mayo,” explained Brady.

“Because I do think that Conor Lane knew he made a mistake and then he refereed it that way.

“The incident with Rob (Hennelly) retaking the 45, I don’t know where that came out of myself. I can’t see it. I’ve looked back, Philly (McMahon) was 30 yards away when Rob struck the first ball. Conor Lane got it wrong. And it’s not the first time he’s got it wrong.

“They’re big, massive calls he’s got wrong in the past and he got it wrong on Saturday as well. It’s unfortunate. A referee goes out to do his best but from my perspective, that’s not good enough.

“It’s not just about the horrific injury to Eoghan, it’s about a number of things. I do think there were some calls after that, that even as a Mayo person I’m going, that was soft enough for us but we’ll take it.

“It shouldn’t be part of the review or analysis (of the match) but that is the role the referee plays. They can have some very big calls to make and he didn’t make them.

“He was afraid to show a number of black cards. Basquel’s black card for me was probably in between but there were probably two, if not three other black cards by what the rules say and they weren’t given.

“I do think that probably lifted Mayo, who effectively said ‘here, we’re definitely in this on our own now.’ James Horan, I have never seen him as animated. I’ve never seen the Team Doctor, Sean Moffatt, as mad.

“We’re up in the stands, we’re watching on a screen. But these are the people on the pitch.

“When I say referee, the referee is a team, a team of officials, linesmen. And they need to make the big calls as well. Because if you have a guy 15 yards away officiating and there’s another guy 10 yards and they can’t see it, well then there’s something wrong.”

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