Ulster secretary Brian McAvoy’s innovative suggestion last month didn’t receive a fraction of the attention it deserved.
From Jim Gavin to Aidan O’Shea in Gaelic football to Davy Fitzgerald in hurling, the idea of two referees has regularly been proposed in recent years. Apart from the difficulty in finding consistency between the pair, the main arguments against it centres on the need for another match official when there are now seven surrounding the perimeter of the field. The current shortage of referees is another sticking point towards progression.
But with one simple readjustment, McAvoy would address those concerns. “Research by the standing committee on playing rules during last year’s Allianz Leagues show that there is an average of four sideline balls per football game,” the Down man wrote in his annual report.
“I just wonder is this the best use of these two officials? I accept that they have other duties, such as bringing infractions to the attention of the referee, but surely there is an arguable case for two referees and no linesmen — you would actually reduce the number of officials needed on match day (the fourth official could act as a standby referee if required)?
“I would contend that two referees — one in either half — would reduce the amount of ‘off the ball’ incidents as each referee would be policing their half of the field and therefore, unlike the linesmen, not have to follow the play.”
McAvoy’s brainwave could apply to hurling too as much as a sideline cut is considerably more valuable (even more so if Congress votes this weekend to increase its worth to two points) and regular in that code. If hurling was so concerned about a plan for football being landed on it, the fourth official could take up the flag so that no extra match official is required.
You can predict most hurling counties, who will rail against the black card/sin bin and a TV match official (sorry Limerick) this weekend, would strongly oppose a second referee, believing it to be a draconian move especially after a weekend where far too many frees were given in Croke Park and Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
But if anything what happened in those Dublin-Wexford and Cork-Limerick games underlined the need for hurling to accept another set eyes on the field. Consider Seán Cleere pitch-sharing with another referee and not having to make 50:50 calls from 60 yards away as he did on so many occasions in Cork.
Of course, the same point could be applied to the Dublin-Donegal football game that followed. Imagine if one of Maurice Deegan’s linesmen was upgraded to take control of the half where Michael Murphy, John Small, Brian Howard and others clashed late into the game? Closer to the action, would the linesman have deemed it fair to issue two yellow cards or realised that there was an instigator and a reactor?
If football match officials aren’t drowning under the weight of the new rules imposed on them and the cunningness of players to get each other sent off, sin-binned or waste time, in hurling the whistleblowers are suffering with the speed of the game, most particularly when it comes to sleight of the hand-pass. Hurling referees could be better equipped to deal with cynicism too but the difficulty in distinguishing the hand-pass has raised its head for the second spring in a row.
After a series of them were deemed illegal in Dublin and Cork over the weekend, RTÉ’s League Sunday contacted Croke Park which insisted at a referees’ meeting days before the games that there was no emphasis put on the hand-pass. However, at a media briefing last month journalists were informed that they had been instructed to ensure there was a clear striking action made with the hand in transferring the ball.
John Kiely’s point that referees have to err on the side of caution in whistling for such infringements is correct. The hand-pass has evolved and become so perfected as a skill that it appears like a sweep. That’s not to say there aren’t throw balls but as Kiely argued they will occur more often when a player under pressure is trying to get rid of the ball as opposed to passing it.
Referees aren’t going to ask for help. As Brian Gavin’s columns in this newspaper these past two seasons have established, they are a right competitive bunch and nobody wants to admit they are in difficulty. But so many of them now are across both codes because they are isolated and reacting accordingly.
It’s not as if there aren’t promising referees coming through — for example, in football there is Kerry’s Brendan Griffin and in hurling Clare’s Niall Malone and John O’Halloran of Limerick. But to think they and their colleagues can do it all on their own is overly ambitious.
If Limerick’s footballers and hurlers are having a great time of it right now, Mayo’s certainly aren’t. Just one win between their two teams from eight games and, to rub salt into the wounds, benefactor Tim O’Leary appeared to call for James Horan’s head on Twitter on Sunday just days after praising him (his #horanout tweet has since been deleted).
Best of luck to new chairman Liam Moffatt trying to sort that one out. And it doesn’t get any easier for Mayo this weekend when they entertain Kerry a few hours after annual Congress in Croke Park. Mayo officials will want to be out in force in Dublin this weekend having embarrassingly chosen not to attend the special Congress in Cork last October.
The difficulty is that Congress is expected to finish mid to late Saturday afternoon while the game in Castlebar is fixed for 7.15pm.
In his 2019 annual convention report, Mayo secretary Dermot Butler bemoaned the timing of the annual event, having been held in April up until 2012. “It was held (in Wexford) on the same weekend that we played Dublin in Croke Park. It still baffles me that National League games are held on Congress weekend. The weekend previous was a free weekend and would have been more suitable.”
Butler does have a point regarding the scheduling of Congress. Its staging is not conducive when it clashes with the league. This Saturday there are six football league fixtures arranged. That’s 12 counties whose representatives will hope to be (if not expected to be) in two places at the same time. And we wonder why the GAA are concerned that there is not enough new blood appearing on county board executives.
John Kiely is not Evelyn Cusack but he does like to plan and seven days out from facing Westmeath next Sunday he was fearing the worst for the fixture.
“We are quite happy with games every week but it’s just a pity that the weather gods aren’t playing along with us,” the Limerick manager said on Sunday.
“It’s been bad for the last few weeks and it’s not looking any better for the next 10 days and next weekend is looking ropey as well.”
Laois manager Eddie Brennan has already predicted there will be trouble ahead with his hurlers set to face Kilkenny on a highly suspect O’Moore Park pitch less than 24 hours after the footballers take on Kildare there.
There is wiggle room for the football game to be postponed but not the hurling fixture and Brennan already knows the keenness for hurling matches to go ahead after the Portlaoise field was deemed playable for Laois-Carlow on Saturday night.
As Allianz are on Tuesday set to confirm an extension of their sponsorship of the National Leagues, you imagine they have raised the issue of the competition, particularly hurling, being shoehorned into a smaller and smaller window of weekends.
By the time next weekend rolls around, the named storms for the year will already have reached the letter F.
That’s not too inaccurate a grade to give the GAA’s fixtures makers for not giving the hurling league space to breathe.
Dalo's Hurling Show: Reffing frustrations. Limerick statement. Cork’s consistent inconsistency. Cahill on a roll