JOHN FOGARTY: GAA referees back in the crosshairs

Referees must increasingly cope with attempts to influence their decisions, writes John Fogarty.

It’s an established truth that the seven degrees of separation doesn’t apply to Ireland, where it’s four at most. In the GAA, it’s three, and that’s on a bad day.

So when the referees appointments committee assign officials to matches, it’s done so with the knowledge there are links that can’t be helped and are so negligible, they will not impose on a referee’s judgement. Take the decision to give David Coldrick the duty of refereeing last year’s Dublin-Kerry All-Ireland SFC final, for example. The Meath man has lived in Blanchardstown for some time and works in Dublin city centre but that meant diddly-squat and rightfully so.

Some years back, Kilkenny privately expressed reservations about an All-Ireland final referee who worked alongside a brother of a team-mate of the opposing county. How they gleaned that information indicates the size of the net they cast but it didn’t matter in the slightest. Kilkenny ended up winning and the referee’s performance was a sound one.

There’s nothing to suggest inter-county referees aren’t above reproach, although some managers, even on the record, have voiced quite unfounded claims that the man in black had it in for them. They do, however, remain human.

It’s why James Horan four years ago attempted to put pressure on Joe McQuillan before their All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin when he made reference to his familiarity with Pat Gilroy’s side. It’s why Kerry players, as current Cork football team psychologist Conor McCarthy pointed out in this newspaper 12 months ago, shake hands with match officials before matches (although the Respect initiative makes that a requisite for almost everyone now).

It’s why Conor McManus in his acceptance speech after Monaghan’s Ulster final victory last July thanked David Coldrick and his officials.

It’s why Mickey Harte lavished praise on David Gough, an early favourite to land the All-Ireland final this year and as likely a quarter-final, after his display in Tyrone’s drawn Ulster semi-final with Cavan last month. It’s why Rory Gallagher, following Donegal’s stalemate with Monaghan last Saturday week, momentarily broke away from the post-match interview to say goodbye to Maurice Deegan, linesman on the day. Deegan took charge of last weekend’s replay.

Managers and players alike know it’s nice to be acknowledged but acutely appreciate there is no harm in attempting to charm, coax, or even compel a referee, providing it doesn’t contravene a rule.

There was nothing in the rulebook preventing Johnny Ryan being appointed to referee last Saturday’s Wexford-Offaly All-Ireland SHC qualifier. Nor was there anything in his performance that indicated he should not have been put in charge of the game.

Attention should rightly be drawn to his and his umpires’ decision not to award Mark Fanning a goal from a first-half penalty but it seemed a genuine error more than anything else.

From the Christy Ring Cup final (that game’s referee John O’Brien was incidentally a linesman in Wexford Park) to the Laois-Armagh SFC qualifier, there have been plenty of them to go around.

That, however, was not the biggest mistake on Saturday. Ryan should never have refereed the game, certainly not after Wexford made the GAA aware he was a club-mate of Offaly coach and selector Conor Gleeson. It is also believed a number of Ryan’s umpires are members of the Boherlahan-Dualla club. Whether it was Ryan’s failure to cite a possible conflict of interests or the appointments committee’s decision not to consider or overlook his and his team’s connections with Gleeson, the ball was dropped. When Wexford raised concerns to the GAA about Ryan’s suitability, it should have been acknowledged as a red flag and Ryan switched to another qualifier game.

It must be stated Ryan also officiated the Wexford-Offaly Division 1B game in Wexford Park in March, a game won by Offaly, but his common ground with Gleeson only came to Wexford’s attention last week.

Fortunately for the GAA and the referee, the penalty decision didn’t matter and avoided putting them in the tightest of spots. Then might Ryan and his umpires’ association with Gleeson have been perceived as impacting on the game, however ridiculous that might be.

Thankfully, it didn’t come to that but there remains the issue of a referee being selected to supervise a championship match, a knockout one no less, involving a coach with whom he shares allegiances.

Neutrality and an exhibition of dispassion to the interests of the participating counties including their representatives are basic requirements in the duties of refereeing. After a June where the aptitude of referees, county and fourth officials was called into question, this latest mishap follows a trend but one that is creeping up the echelons of the organisation. It seems it’s catching.

Time Dempsey received his Kilkenny dues

GAA referees back in the crosshairs

In his 11th season with Kilkenny, Michael Dempsey is so embedded in his adopted county he has been assimilated several times over. But has he truly been given his dues for what he has brought to the set-up?

Obviously, he must be doing something right to be Brian Cody’s longest-serving lieutenant but the man merits more praise than he has been receiving.

Hearing how the Cats, for the third consecutive championship game, won on the basis of their electric third quarter, the Laois native sprang to mind and indeed again when watching a recording of the game. Dempsey’s expertise has assisted Kilkenny in resetting themselves physically to the extent the second half looks like a new game to them.

The football influence can’t be understated although some in the county would have you believe it has nothing to do with that. However, the incredible level of conditioning Dempsey has introduced to Kilkenny provides them with such an iron fist.

It’s the Kilkenny way not to blow their own trumpet – they leave that to others.

Austin Gleeson, October 2015: “There were times in the game it was boys against men, even around the middle of the field, the hits you were taking. It was unbelievable, I remember in the first-half Michael Fennelly hit me and it took me two or three minutes to even get over that hit because he’s a big man.”

Pa Horgan, December 2015: “Fellas are running around pitches for months and one hit and they’re down on their knees breathless. It’s a different fitness. That’s what Kilkenny bring to everything.”

That effect has a name – Michael Dempsey.

Donegal have a case to appeal for Thompson

GAA referees back in the crosshairs

Some critics of Donegal will claim they got their just desserts with Monaghan’s first goal on Saturday. Referee Maurice Deegan allowed a free to be taken while Karl Lacey was still complaining about the reason behind it. Donegal have had a habit of remonstrating to slow up the game and clearly Deegan was having none of it. The lapse in concentration meant Shane Carey was given space to score a goal.

That was bound to catch up with Donegal at some stage but the black card issued to Anthony Thompson for the penalty goal scored by Conor McManus was unjustified. If ever there was a case to plead the defender’s innocence it was then.

Last week, we mentioned the crowd’s indifferent reaction in the drawn game to the sending-off of Martin McElhinney for a yellow-black card combination as an example of how people don’t yet fully understand the black card. The decision to dismiss Thompson, who was making a genuine attempt to win the ball from Ryan Wylie, illustrates even football’s best referees don’t yet have a handle on it. Donegal have been unsuccessful in recent disciplinary cases involving Neil McGee but this is one where they have every right to think they can win.

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