A baptism of fire is de rigueur in becoming the GAA’s national match officials manager. Nine years ago, Pat Doherty stepped into the role the day after Martin Sludden awarded Joe Sheridan that goal in the Leinster final.
Yesterday, his successor Donal Smith started the job after a weekend when the majesty of the hurling played rose above the way it was officiated.
Doherty’s departure — he is now operations manager of his native Westmeath — has been welcomed privately and even publicly by some managers.
Kieran McGeeney seemed to have a pop at him when Mayo beat his Armagh side earlier this month:
Those without vested interests would regard Doherty as having been a steady hand at the tiller. Journalists who attended recent pre-Championship briefings about refereeing were impressed with the clarity of his message being conveyed to match officials.
Smith takes over with never as much focus on the performance of referees, particularly in hurling, where the evolution of administering games has struggled to keep up with how they are played.
That goes for how players in both codes have been educated or taught themselves to cry wolf too. Referees can’t keep up with them or the game.
For all the criticism aimed at Alan Kelly and Seán Cleere, we can easily neglect just how much they are pleading for assistance. Technology is available in the form of HawkEye and the wireless communications between the referee and his assistants but it just does not go far enough.
As Smith says elsewhere these pages today, he is open to more technology being used to making referees’ roles easier but what exactly can be done to give them a break?
Here are eight proposals:
Give the HawkEye official more responsibility: Former referees such as Wexford’s Dickie Murphy and Dublin’s Noel O’Donoghue have been stationed in the HawkEye booth in Croke Park. Relaying the message from the score detection technology to the referee is a gross under-use of their expertise.
With the benefit of TV footage and replays from different angles, they could be of assistance to referees and it doesn’t need to be so intrusive as to upset the flow of the game.
Make smarter refereeing appointments: Had Tipperary-Wexford been on Saturday evening, there wouldn’t have been as much an issue about Cleere’s appointment toofficiate the game. But because Kilkenny won, it only magnified the onus on him. No referee should be put in such a position.
Define the tackle: The previous playing rules committee under Jarlath Burns had planned to simplify the playing part of the rulebook with a clearer understanding of the tackle in both football and hurling.
The current body may look at it in the coming months but consensus has to be agreed on what exactly can and can’t be done. Seeking the opinions of students of the games like McGeeney and Paul Kinnerk would be wise.
Clear the sidelines: This one is likely already in the crosshairs of the GAA’s disciplinary bodies. There are enough events on the field without referees being distracted by what’s going on behind the line. The numbers permitted per team at inter-county level (five) may have to be cut further.
Strip maor foirne rights: Two great hurling men, the sight of Seoirse Bulfin and Tommy Dunne trying to outrace one another to speak to Seán Cleere at half-time on Sunday was silly.
Their exchange at the Davin Stand End goal as Cleere queried Conor McDonald’s second goal was just as comical. By all means allow managers to speak to referees before matches but only then. As for the maor foirnes, only allow them onto the field when the linesman has given them the go-ahead.
Enhance umpiring: One of the biggest conveniences for the GAA when the responsibility for such is outsourced to the referees at minimal cost. Friends, family, or acquaintances of the referee so often share the car with the referee.
There should be training but often is the case that giving up their time for a meal is enough to qualify them. The positioning of some leaves so much to be desired. An age limit, not as low as it is for referees at 50, across the board may also need to be considered.
Extend HawkEye: The likes of the Gaelic Grounds and Páirc Uí Chaoimh deserve the technology. Basically, anywhere a provincial final can be played should be afforded the system. If it is not feasible for triangulation, at least appoint a TV review official.
It takes two: Hurling, most definitely two referees. Football, most possibly.
There would be consistency issues initially but officials can learn to work together to halve the immense load currently placed on one man.
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