'Why are we sitting with our heads in the sand?' Quirke, Counihan, and Gavin back hooter system

Laois manager Mike Quirke, 2010 All-Ireland winning Cork manager Conor Counihan, and four-time All-Ireland hurling final referee Brian Gavin have called for the introduction of the clock-hooter system to lessen the "unsustainable" demands being placed on football referees.

Referee Ciaran Branagan shows his watch to Darren Hughes of Monaghan following their Allianz Football League match against Dublin at Croke Park. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Referee Ciaran Branagan shows his watch to Darren Hughes of Monaghan following their Allianz Football League match against Dublin at Croke Park. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Timekeeping issues dominated three of the weekend's Allianz League Division 1 games, with Meath manager Andy McEntee furious that referee Sean Hurson did not add more time to the four minutes of second-half stoppages he played.

McEntee, whose side came up one-point short of Mayo, was adamant that incidents which occurred during the allotted four minutes should have necessitated play continuing beyond the 74th minute.

This was exactly the case at Croke Park on Saturday evening as referee Ciarán Branagan, having signalled six minutes of injury-time, allowed for nine minutes in total as there were several stoppages during the first six of those.

Dublin got back level with Monaghan during those final moments, prompting an irate McEntee to claim the following afternoon that "it's one rule for the Dublins, and the bigger names in this world, and it's a different rule for everybody else".

At Letterkenny, Galway manager Pádraic Joyce, despite his team sneaking a narrow victory, was annoyed at eight minutes of second-half stoppages being played when Joe McQuillian had earlier instructed the fourth official to signal five.

Former Cork manager and player Conor Counihan says GAA top-brass need to take their heads out of the sand and replicate the timekeeping model which has proven such a success for ladies football. Speaking on the Irish Examiner GAA podcast, he was critical of how the new playing rules had been foisted upon "overloaded" referees without proper consultation.

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"[The clock-hooter system] is there in ladies football. Why are we sitting with our heads in the sand? Somebody needs to come out and tell me why this can't be done. It just makes no sense," Counihan remarked.

"Was the referee ever consulted about these rules changes. Because if you were the key person in this, you should have been part of the process. To me, that doesn't seem to have happened.

"The other thing with the rule changes, there was no trial period as such. There'll always be issues in terms of referees and rules, but at least give them a fair chance."

Laois boss Quirke, also present on the Irish Examiner's weekly GAA podcast, can't understand why Croke Park have not yet taken their lead from the ladies game or basketball in introducing a countdown clock.

"You can do it, but we are choosing not to do it. I was saying a couple of years ago it was probably time for two referees to start refereeing inter-county football games because for one person to try and do everything, it is near impossible to do it with any great accuracy.

"And it is probably a credit to some of the referees we have that we don't have complete messes in some games because it is so much that they have to cater for now."

Brian Gavin, who took charge of four All-Ireland hurling finals in the last decade, sees no alternative but to introduce a clock-hooter system for inter-county football games. And while he insisted that Branagan was spot on to play nine minutes of second-half injury-time at Croke Park, the Offaly referees' chairman believes it is not feasible to maintain the status quo.

"To keep tabs on everything that is going on, from the sin bin to the advanced mark, and whether the kicker is inside the '45, or whether it has been kicked 20 metres, there is a huge lot of pressure being put on one man.

"You also have the time being lost when 'keepers come up the field to take frees and players feigning injury late on. Timekeeping is a real bone of contention at the moment, and one that is going to have to be sorted. It is getting frustrating for a lot of people, but it is getting most frustrating for the referees because they are taking the flak.

"Croke Park need to say to referees that we need to start managing the time. We need this for football, not hurling. The workload of the football referee is not sustainable."

The chief talking point from the weekend's other Division 1 game between Kerry and Tyrone was the second yellow card shown to Kingdom captain David Clifford after being wrestled to the ground by Tyrone sub Ben McDonnell. The umpires at the Tyrone goal end in Edendork were heavily criticised for failing to alert referee Fergal Kelly that Clifford was more victim than aggressor.

Gavin says Croke Park need to do more to educate umpires. He disagreed with Mike Quirke's suggestion of replacing umpires with a referee behind either goal.

"People are saying on social media the umpire goes because he gets a dinner on the way home. They are in fact going to help a friend or clubmate, and they are trying to do a job to the best of their ability. It is a difficult job, one that not many people within the GAA are putting their hands up for," Gavin concluded.

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