Dublin manager Pat Gilroy has claimed the controversial free that cost Kildare their Leinster Championship place at Croke Park on Sunday was justified.
Meath referee Cormac Reilly caused consternation in the Kildare ranks when he penalized Andriú Mac Lochlainn for a last minute “foul” on Bernard Brogan.
The sides were level and the game headed for a replay when Reilly spotted the infringement by Mac Lochlainn in the distance.
Brogan subsequently pointed the free to secure victory by the narrowest of margins for the Dubs after a dramatic second half comeback by the Lilywhites after Eoghan O’Gara had been sent off for the winners.
Gilroy went so far as to claim the decision free-kick was karma as far as Kildare were concerned.
“I think Bernard was probably due a free at that stage. He had probably had a few calls that seemed to go against him,” stated Gilroy at his post-match press conference.
“So in fairness, I’d say there were seven or eight that he could have had before that so I think getting the one but your man was pulling him.
“I mean, we either want to have good forwards pulled and have that as part of the game or it was a free because he was pulling him, there’s no question.
“But he was pulling him eight other times and he didn’t get frees. That’s something that’s part of championship football, we either have it as part of the game, or we don’t.
“But we don’t have guys doing it. I think it was a free.”
The Dublin manager did concede that Kildare had a right to be annoyed by Reilly’s decision so late in the game after previous fouls had gone unpunished.
“Of course you would, because it does seem that when you get into championship fellas in the full-forward line are allowed to be given a little tug once he releases before the referee looks,” added Gilroy.
“I don’t think the referee could see them but it just happened with this one, it was a longer ball in, and he did see it.”
O’Gara was red carded for a second yellow card offense in the 40th minute, but his manager stood by the young forward.
“We had felt he has been a guy that has been very disciplined in what he’s been doing with us,” said Gilroy.
“Look, he got sent off and that’s it, we have to deal with it. It’s very disappointing for us as well.”
Eamonn Callaghan did score a late goal for Kildare to push the game to the verge of a replay.
Kildare’s villain of the peace Mac Lochlainn was adamant he had done no wrong in that late tussle with Brogan.
“You could see on TV a lot better than I could see there,” claimed the defender. “It wasn’t a free. I was sure in my mind that it wasn’t a free.
“The game even shouldn’t come down to a decision like that. It’s unnecessary and it’s a cruel way to end a game of football.”
Kildare boss Kieran McGeeney was annoyed by the decision but reluctant to slam referee Reilly.
“I can’t go on about referees much longer. I just can’t,” said McGeeney. “Aindriu Mac Lochlainn didn’t do anything wrong. Even after probably seven replays, he still didn’t do anything wrong.
“He came out with his hands up in the air. I thought up front our two boys were getting bumped and pushed about the place but they’re good strong lads and they stayed on their feet.”
Meath exorcised the ghosts of last year’s controversial Leinster final win over Louth when Cian Ward scored four goals in a demolition derby victory over the Wee County in Saturday night’s All-Ireland SFC qualifier in Breffni Park.
Ward scored all but one of the Meath goals as they recorded a 5-8 to 2-8 win that left Louth with no complaints.
“The players wanted to put this baby to sleep, it’s been hanging over them a long time since the Leinster final last year and tonight puts an end to that,” said Meath boss Seamus McEnaney.
“I am absolutely delighted with the team’s performance. It’s a huge win for us -- for the players, the management, the Meath County Board, and the Meath supporters - but it’s one game at a time now in the qualifiers.”
Four goal hero Ward said: “This victory is just another step in where Meath want to be. My job is to finish the goal chances and they were put on a plate for me tonight by my team-mates.
“I thought that our full-back line were absolutely outstanding and it was a really good team performance. We’re just delighted to get to the next round.”
Darren Clarke accounted for 1-8 of Louth’s 2-8 total, but they never looked like avenging last year’s bitter defeat to their neighbors.
The result will put pressure on manager Peter Fitzpatrick, but he was adamant afterwards that he wants to see out his three year term as boss after successive defeats to Carlow and Meath.