Probably not the best start to any marriage, but the honeymoon got canned.
Long story short, Kilmurry won the game in hugely contentious circumstances. After the referee disallowed what would have been an injury-time winning goal for us, the Clare champions swept up the field to kick the winner from distance to break our hearts. The man in the middle allowed play to continue long enough for us to create one more opportunity. Again, we were denied a late whistle that would have given us the chance to knock over a free and would have gotten us to extra time.
The seemingly one-sided decision-making in the last 10 minutes created the perfect powder keg situation for the referee to be seen as the villain of the piece.
After the final whistle, I saw a few characters making a beeline for the official to give him a piece of their mind. The stewards were out doing their best bodyguarding impression to try to get the officials off the field in one piece.
I headed over to cut a few guys off at the pass and stop anybody doing anything that might make themselves or the club look bad.
In fairness, there was nothing much in it. I stayed with the entourage of high-vis jackets and warded off any would-be nonsense until they got to the tunnel.
There was no real flare up and everybody got back to feeling sorry for themselves pretty quickly.
In the weeks following, I was nearly awarded a Nobel peace prize for ‘coming to the aid of referee Maurice Condon’. It was embarrassing stuff. Talk about setting a low bar — praising a guy for not abusing the referee.
We ended up losing the game by a single point after an opening period where we kicked nine wides, and somehow it was supposed to be the referee’s fault that we lost the game.
Give me a break.
I didn’t see him kicking too many of those, nor turning over too many possessions for us.
Did he make mistakes on the day? No question he did. But blaming a referee in those circumstances is a complete cop-out for management, players, or supporters who ultimately weren’t good enough on the day to get over the line.
We all give out about referees, and the standard of officiating is not close to where it needs to be to reflect the colossal effort being put in by players at both club and county level right now. I don’t really have a solution as to how to improve it, perhaps a second official on the field may help or maybe that’d just compound the confusion.
What I do know for certain is the kind of reaction we saw from Andy McEntee after Meath’s gut-wrenching extra-time defeat to Tyrone on Saturday was completely out of order.
Of course, these things are normally just momentary lapses in good judgment, the heat of the situation takes over and displaces all rational thought and behaviour.
But to have to be physically held back from the referee by your own players and officials over a couple of bad calls is an outrageous overreaction.
How many mistakes did the Meath players make on the day? What was the wides count? How many turnovers did they give away?
How many kick-outs and breaks were lost? Whose man caused wreck in the game?
In my view, that should be the starting point, before you take off with the over the top lambasting of the referee.
Fair enough, it’s not something we see every week, but we shouldn’t see it at all.
Take Derek McGrath’s reaction after the ‘ghost’ goal that never was against his Waterford side two weeks ago that cost them a vital victory and saw the officials needing an escort off the pitch while getting plenty of abuse thrown their way.
Not by McGrath, it should be noted; “Look, I think these decisions are made in good faith. They are made on the spur of the moment and I think we have to — not embrace those decisions, whilst we might be disappointed in decisions we have to be just aware of the fact that they are making them in good faith… If it’s not the correct decision what can you do only move on?”
It was a refreshing approach from McGrath when most others would have taken the opportunity to bury the umpires and used their mistake as the ready-made excuse as to why they didn’t get the result they so desperately needed.
He chose the path less travelled, understanding full well that a 70-minute game is decided by hundreds of small incidents, not just one or two high profile or incorrect decisions by the referee.
We’ve seen too much of it in the past few weeks, but the problem with county managers losing it with referees after the game is twofold as I see it. Firstly, you are abdicating your players of all responsibility for the result and performance by laying the blame at the feet of an official with a whistle. That’s no way to try and empower a group of people to take ownership of their own destiny.
And secondly, you are normalising that aggressive behaviour for some club coaches and players up and down the country, both at senior and juvenile level to act in the same manner towards officials, and that is something that we as an association must strenuously oppose.
Mistakes and incompetent performances are a recurring aspect of GAA refereeing and have been since time began. That’s not exactly ground-breaking news, and the reality of the situation is, the further down the food chain you go, the more obvious that absence of quality officiating becomes.
But are they doing the best they can under the current constraints of the game?
I believe like Derek McGrath, they are making decisions in good faith and I don’t think for a second that any officiating crew ever go out to deliberately screw anybody over, just like no player goes out to deliberately make a crucial mistake in a big game.
No doubt referees can do better, but so too can everybody else who thinks it’s acceptable for officials to need to be cocooned by a Garda escort to get off the field safely because people can’t control themselves enough after the final whistle to realise that mistakes and disappointment are a part of the game.
Deal with it.