Our best referees earn respect the old-fashioned way
By Paddy Heaney
I knew John Diamond because he came to our house to play 45.
I also knew him because he was a referee.
In a smoke-filled room of card players or in the wide-open spaces of a football pitch, his booming voice could fill the space with ease. He was equally at home in either environment. A big man, a big character, he had his own way of doing things, and that included refereeing.
Back in the day, I had the privilege of witnessing John at first hand. When I played for Glen, our top-scoring forward was double All Star winner Enda Gormley.
A voluble presence, Enda was never averse to voicing his disapproval if he felt the ref made a mistake. On this particular occasion, Enda and his opponent were locked in a physical battle while racing towards the ball. The defender eventually got out in front, caught the ball and cleared his lines.
Enda, the county man and All-Ireland medallist, howled in protest.
“For God’s sake John, give us something,” he roared.
“No way,” shouted John just as loudly and with equal force. “The both of you were at it, he’s just faster than you.”
The response drew an immediate cackle of laughter from the onlookers. The situation completely diffused, the game continued, and John ran (jogged) on.
Like all referees, he didn’t get everything right, but his neutrality was never in doubt and the way he communicated with players was quite brilliant.
As Jules says in Pulp Fiction: “Personality goes a long way.”
At inter-county level, I have only ever seen one man adopt the same approach: Pat McEnaney, of course. Hugely respected by players, he treated them like men rather than naughty schoolboys.
Unlike many other refs, McEnaney also drew admiration for the manner in which he interpreted the rules with a first preference to let the game flow.
Forced to retire when he turned 50, McEnaney has since been appointed as the chairman of the National Referees’ Committee.
The GAA’s decision to give McEnaney this role has been a masterstroke. Any referee who now harbours ambitions of being included in the panel of 16 championship referees will have to meet his criteria.
His influence is already obvious. He has informed his officials that he wants them to allow advantage wherever possible. If a bad foul has been committed but the attacking team wants to take a quick free, let the game proceed.
Referee Michael Duffy clearly got caught in a conflict between his old self and new self when he committed that well-documented mistake in the Monaghan and Down game.
When Benny McArdle committed the foul, ‘old’ Duffy stopped the game and beckoned the Down defender towards him.
Then, when Duffy saw Conor McManus taking a quick free-kick, he must have remembered McEnaney’s advice, and ‘new’ Duffy took over and allowed Tommy Freeman to score.
In that precise moment, we saw a referee literally caught in two minds, his and McEnaney’s. It nearly cost Down a place in this year’s Ulster final.
Former referee John Bannon reviewed Duffy’s display on these pages. Apart from that most contentious decision, Bannon outlined five other calls Duffy got wrong, and all of them were against Down. Truth be told, Bannon could easily have doubled that.
On The Sunday Game last weekend, Joe Brolly delivered a withering assessment of Duffy’s performance and urged the GAA to demonstrate it would no longer accept such substandard displays by dropping Duffy.
Of course, in true GAA style, Duffy was given the qualifier game between Longford two days later against Brolly’s dearest Derry.
Although McEnaney doesn’t sit on the Referees’ Appointment Committee, he still defended the GAA’s decision.
“As far as I am concerned, I am managing a team,” said McEnaney. “Like James McCartan managed Down last Sunday, he had three or four players who didn’t perform. Does he drop those three or four players for the Ulster final? No, he doesn’t.
“If some boy isn’t performing over a period of three or four games, then he drops him. The very same principle applies to referees.”
McEnaney’s reasoned and sympathetic response doesn’t stand up to more rigorous analysis. The harsh reality is that players get subbed and dropped when they don’t deliver the goods.
Bernard Brogan, former Footballer of the Year, was taken off on Sunday.
Duffy’s error count went into double figures that day. If Duffy was a player, he would have been subbed before half-time.
Bear in mind Daniel McCartan, the younger brother of the Down manager, was called ashore after 20 minutes.
In an attempt to alter attitudes towards referees, Croke Park’s marketing men have come up with the slogan: ‘Give Respect, Earn Respect.’ But what respect was shown to Longford and Derry?
Give Respect, Earn Respect? It’s the other way around.
Good referees likes John Diamond and Pat McEnaney earned respect, then it was given to them. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it works.
* Contact: email@example.comHome