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27th Jan 2019

Donie Smith may escape with lenient sanction after Keith Higgins clash

Patrick McCarry

The weather conditions were wretched in MacHale Park, on Saturday evening, and the same could be said for some of the on-field antics.

Mayo defeated Roscommon in their opening round of the Allianz Football League Division 1. Brian Reape’s second-half goal ultimately decided the contest but there was late drama as Roscommon scored a deflected goal deep in injury time.

The game was played out in a near gale, with rain teeming down and the strong winds shaking the uprights. Roscommon led at the break but may now regret not building a bigger advantage as they struggled against the wind, after the break.

The big talking point on the night, however, came when Rossies forward Donie Smith raked his hand across the face of Mayo defender Keith Higgins. There was definite contact with the eye of Higgins but Smith may argue that was never his intention.

It was definitely a foul, though, and Higgins was furious with Smith’s actions.

The Roscommon star let himself down when Higgins spun and stood up. If there was contact with Higgins, it was minimal but Smith dropped to the ground as if he had been struck by the Mayo man’s head before chaos ensued and players from both sides flooded the scene.

The match officials were kept busy and, in the closing stages, Ultan Harney was sent off for Roscommon while Colm Boyle was shown a black card.

Following his side’s 1-8 to 1-7 win, Mayo boss James Horan told RTÉ Sport that he did not see the Smith-Higgins incident. “My backroom team were watching and rang down straight away to say that there was an incident,” he said. “All I can do is have a look at it. I don’t know whether there was intent or not.”

Cunningham also spoke with RTÉ Sport and addressed the Smith incident:

“There was a lot of physicality out there because of the conditions. Did I see that incident? Absolutely not. We wouldn’t promote or endorse that type of behaviour in any way.”

While many fans that saw the incident live, or caught up on highlights, have called for Smith to receive a lengthy ban, the GAA’s own rules, and precedence, may tie their hands.

In 2015, Dublin defender Philly McMahon was banned for only one game for making contact with the face of Kieran Donaghy. The Kerry forward told the match referee he had been eye-gouged, a claim McMahon later denied, but the defender was only suspended for making contact with Donaghy’s face.

Dublin even appealed the ban to the GAA’s Central Hearings Committee but that appeal was rejected.

There are much harsher sanctions for gouging, and for ‘making contact with the eye area’, in rugby. Stade Francais prop David Attoub was once banned 70 weeks for a gouge on Ulster flanker Stephen Ferris when a photographer contacted authorities with some damning images of the incident, which occurred in a Heineken Cup encounter.

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