Tipperary GAA chiefs were forced to cancel a recruitment course for new referees in Thurles last night due to a lack of numbers.
Only three people had signed up for the module, which has been run by the county board referees administration committee in recent years.
“We just hadn’t the numbers,” bemoaned county chairman John Devane. “It’s an ongoing problem here and across the country, I imagine. The number of referees coming through or the lack of them is always going to be a concern.”
Less than two years ago, Clare and Limerick reported their refereeing numbers were close to crisis point and the same sentiment was expressed in Laois and Kerry recently.
In December, Mid-Tipperary chairman Jonathan Cullen, himself a referee, revealed there were only nine active referees at adult level in the division.
“As things stand, it will be just a matter of time before games will not be played due to a lack of referees,” he said.
Tipperary are well represented in the national panels with Fergal Horgan and Johnny Ryan on the hurling rota and Derek O’Mahoney and Seán Lonergan included in the football list.
However, their progression puts “extra pressure” on the county board, says Devane.
“There would be weekends where they are appointed to an inter-county game when we have league games and when they are being taken up so often it reduces the number of referees we have available for our games.
“We have an awful lot of games to play in the club championships next month and by right you need to have seven neutrals (referee, two linesmen and four umpires) for the bigger matches.
“Clubs help out when they can but it’s not ideal to have them involved in officiating games.”
Devane, the county’s former competitions control committee chair, accepts refereeing is not the most attractive pastime to pursue.
“It’s no state secret that refereeing is a tough position to be in — they are never in the right, it seems. Some clubs don’t have referees, which is a worry, because they can’t seem to get interest in it.
“But, you know, sometimes it’s unbelievable what they have to put up with too when it’s a voluntary position apart from expenses. Maybe it’s getting harder for people to commit too. You could be doing a game on a Saturday and another on a Sunday and that’s three or four hours out of each of your days.”
Devane hopes the board will increase efforts to entice people to become referees.
For now, though? “We would appeal to clubs to encourage people to become referees because we need our games to be played.”
In his annual report last year, Tipperary secretary Tim Floyd warned of how accepted heavy criticism and abuse of referees had turned off potential match officials.
“Do we in the GAA accept abuse of referees as normal behaviour? Not alone is it part and parcel of our club games but we watch it on national TV and sometimes regard it as entertaining.”