GAA president Liam O’Neill has defended Barry Kelly in the wake of the Central Hearings Committee’s (CHC) decision not to punish Brian Cody for his remarks about the referee.
The Kilkenny manager described as “criminal” the decision taken by the Westmeath official to award Tipperary a free in injury-time of the drawn game last month.
O’Neill was away when Cody made the remarks. He said he had no opinion on the CHC decision and expressed his admiration for what Cody has achieved as Kilkenny manager. However, he also described Kelly as one of the best referees in the history of hurling.
“I preface my remarks by saying I have huge regards for both people in this story. Brian Cody is probably the most successful manager of all time. A fantastic person to give to the GAA at local level, travels the country speaking to groups and takes nothing for it. Does the same with his job in Kilkenny. Does that free gratis as well.
“I would regard Barry Kelly as one of the greatest referees ever. I think he contributed to a fantastic final. And it’s a source of regret to me that afterwards, that the joy of Kilkenny’s win and the performance of Barry Kelly was taken out of what I thought was a very good contest.
“Other than that, I wouldn’t have any comment to make. I have huge admiration for them both. I wouldn’t really like to get involved in a row. I wasn’t there for the context of it. So it would be unfair of me to pass comment.”
O’Neill argues the level of respect for referees has risen in recent times.
“I think it has improved. I think people realise now that if you don’t have a referee you don’t have a game and I think there is an increasing acceptance of that.”
Also speaking at the launch yesterday of the GAA national club draw, Tipperary defender Kieran Bergin admitted he felt Kelly’s decision to penalise Brian Hogan was harsh.
“If you had to look at it from an objective kind of view I don’t think it was a free myself. I suppose I shouldn’t really have said that! 99% of referees will give a free in. In fairness, I thought he did a good job overall but if I was a Kilkenny player I would have been expecting a free in there. Then again, you don’t really know the rules. Seemingly, he (Brian Hogan) did charge at him and he (Pádraic Maher) stood his ground.”
Meanwhile, national hurling development manager Tommy Lanigan said the filleting of referees on TV has become “almost a hobby” for some pundits.
Lanigan, a James Stephens’ club-mate of Cody’s, called on the GAA to cut the number of responsibilities placed on referees. He would like the score and time-keeping taken out of their hands while he would prefer to see trained umpires appointed from a central pool.
“Referees are excoriated almost as a hobby by TV stations and the people who work for them. It’s just not fair. I don’t think referees stand a chance with the televising of games simply because every decision is pored over after every game whereas the referees have to make instant decisions.
“In all sports, referees are subjected to that and I also believe that referees can’t be above criticism but all too often most of the instant criticism tends to be validated by action replays. It’s extraordinary to be a referee at the top level at the moment. The pace of the game is incredible.
“I would like to see things like the scoring of the game to be taken away from referees to help them. It’s arguable whether keeping score is a distraction as well because they need time to mark the score. Various negotiations would tell us referees don’t want them powers taken from them but it’s about making things easier for them.
“Also, it’s no insult to the umpires referees bring with them but we should have a cohort of umpires available as well and maybe we might have a situation where the GAA might supply two and the referee the other two.”
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