JOHN FOGARTY: Referees also deserve fair play

Pictured at the Launch of the 2014 Rochestown Park Hotel Kelleher Shield, are representatives from the competing teams.

Bless us, reader, for we have sinned. Again. On Sunday evening coming home from Salthill, we put in a call to a referees’ assessor.

His kind are known as mentors these days. A devil by any other name, says you.

These men, the public are told by managers and in turn believe, are the shadowy ones responsible for the divergence in how match officials have been calling fouls in recent times. Faceless and answerable virtually to nobody, it’s assumed that referees live and die by their ratings.

We punched in the number to find out the truth. We found out pretty quickly it is different to what is generally perceived. Assessors’ reports are but interpretations themselves of how a referee has fared. They are indicators of room for improvement or commendations but only that.

This particular assessor laughs at the suggestion he holds a lot of sway. There are one or two referees, he argues, shouldn’t be on the inter-county panel but then he’s come to realise his opinion only counts for so much. “The way it should be,” he points out.

No, the real powerbase is the national referees’ committee. Last Wednesday, inter-county match officials were read the riot act by members of the group. The performances of James McGrath and Cathal McAllister in the previous Saturday’s All-Ireland club semi-finals were filleted.

McGrath, of course, chose not to send off Joe Canning for what appeared to be an obvious red card offence. Referees were told in no uncertain terms if any further aggressive fouls were not answered by dismissals they would not be in charge of a game the following weekend.

Context is important here. McGrath, in last July’s Munster final, issued a red card to Pa Horgan. Cork successfully contested the decision and he was free to play in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Kilkenny.

Vilified in several quarters for his decision, McGrath publicly defended his action even though it was undermined by the Central Hearings Committee.

Referees chief Pat McEnaney said at the time: “We’re sticking to the matters that we’ve set out since the start of the year. James McGrath reported a player for striking. What happens outside of the job that we do, in the committee rooms, that’s for other people to decide and we’ve no axe to grind.”

That may be so but how isolated must McGrath have felt? Consequently, if he was in two minds about directing Canning to the line for his strike on David Dempsey, fearing another decision of his would be overturned, could he be blamed? At the same time, the authority of officials remains strong. In recent weeks, we’ve seen refs send off players on the advice of umpires, Dublin footballer Sean George and Limerick hurler Graeme Mulcahy being two examples.

If umpires are being encouraged to be more proactive it is to be welcomed. Referees, especially in hurling, need all the assistance they can get but when it’s their word against the player’s, theirs, more often than not, carries.

GAA President Liam O’Neill’s call for a hurling debate is well-timed as much as the game isn’t the problem but rather how it is refereed.

What are currently being presented are two polarising ideologies about what the men in black should and should not do. At one end, there is Eddie Keher and Brian Cody screaming common sense. At the other is McEnaney and his committee shouting rule book.

Reaching a compromise won’t be easy but ascertaining some sort of agreement, however loose, on adjusting the disciplinary parameters to best reflect the evolution of hurling would only serve the game better.

Helping referees should be the priority. The idea of two of them, as supported by McEnaney, would go a long way to doing just that.

Easing the ridiculous expectations placed on referees to make precise judgements from several tens of metres away can only be welcomed.


Cork unlikely to get way on Nash issue

The Anthony Nash motion is due to be voted on at Saturday’s Congress in Croke Park and it’s unlikely Cork chairman Bob Ryan’s calls for it to be postponed will be heeded.

Ryan has reasonably asked the matter instead be put on the agenda of the forthcoming hurling debate as proposed by GAA President Liam O’Neill.

But there would appear to be a strong willingness to immediately address the anomaly in the rulebook concerning 20 metre frees and penalties.

This in spite of the likelihood it will lead to another problem.

Referees chief Pat McEnaney concedes permitting three defenders on the line for penalties and as many as you want for 20m frees is “legitimising fouling”.

Restricting the free/penalty taker to hitting the ball outside the 20m line will only make it worse.

Should the motion, as expected, be passed, referees will be expected to police the freetakers.

Can we assume umpires will be instructed to keep tabs on defenders not straying off the goal-line?

When a sliotar is whizzing in their general direction and they are the only ones without helmets, that’s easier said than done. It’s not all about players safety, you know.

March 17 a good slot to boost Interpro finals

Footballers took to Twitter on Sunday to decry the lack of promotion provided to this year’s Interprovincial series.

They had a point; little or nothing was done by HQ prior to either the hurling or football semi-finals to sell the games. In these pages on Saturday week last, competition sponsor Martin Donnelly said St Patrick’s Day would be a great fit for the finals of the competition should the club championships be changed to finish in a calendar year.

However, days later GAA President Liam O’Neill floated the idea of a Dublin league double-header in Croke Park replacing the All-Ireland senior club finals on March 17th.

Such a move would hardly tarnish what’s become an important date in the GAA calendar. In fact, there would be a guaranteed bump in the attendance, but what have Dublin done to deserve such a platform? We ask that because the GAA’s St Patrick’s Day has grown synonymous with reward for endeavour.

Staging the Interprovincial finals on our National holiday mightn’t be the populist thing to do. But by showcasing the games, acknowledging players who take the competition more seriously than most and restoring a link to the GAA’s heritage it would be the right thing to do.


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