TONY CONSIDINE: Time GAA took charge of umpire appointments

A FANTASTIC Munster hurling final on Sunday, and yet all the talk yesterday and today, and probably all this week, is about yet another terrible call by a referee.

It’s nothing new of course, and I’d safely say there isn’t a player or a manager in the country, at club or county level, who hasn’t been adversely affected by a bad decision by a linesman, an umpire or a referee, at some time in his career. I’m going to focus here though on the inter-county scene, where poor officiating has become almost an epidemic, a new controversy every week.

There are seven officials at all top GAA games now — the referee, four umpires and two linesmen, both of whom are also themselves top referees. You have one guy with overall authority, the man in the middle, but most of the big problems over the last few years have been caused by the others on the team, and by the umpires especially.

Let’s take that issue first. I think at this stage the days of referees bringing their own umpires with them to even the biggest games has to end — that’s what’s causing many of these problems. Just because certain people were with you from day one, your first game at Junior B, doesn’t mean they are now fit for Croke Park, or Thurles, or any of the other top venues in the country.

The Croke Park ‘goal’ yesterday, the two umpires had a perfect view of everything that happened, the Meath forward throwing himself at the line, rolling over, then throwing the ball into the net — no goal, but they didn’t make the call.

The ‘point that wasn’t’ for Cork in Thurles on Sunday (Ben O’Connor’s free that drifted to the right), the umpire on that side just didn’t want to know, turned his back, left the guy on the other side — who had the white flag — to make the call. The question arises, how capable were those guys of doing their job? So often you see the umpires opting out when it comes to making a major call, afraid to commit themselves.

Umpires should be assessed, the same way that everyone else on that pitch is assessed; they have a crucial role, in fact often it’s the most crucial role. They see what’s going on in the danger area, they decide whether a shot is a goal, a point, or a wide, they decide if someone is in the square, decide also if guys who are pulling and dragging each other in where the action is hottest, deserve a yellow or even a red card.

Those are all crucial decisions, can decide the outcome of a game, and yet you have to ask — what’s the criteria for appointing umpires? If you have a white coat, and maybe a bit of a belly, a bit of age too because you very rarely see a young umpire, is that it? The GAA should appoint its own umpires for all these top games, just as they appoint referees; there should be a course for umpires, a test for them, and those who fail should be gone.

Another thing, technology. In the last number of years there have been huge advances in technology, yet the only time we use it in the GAA is for video evidence in controversial incidents involving players — it’s time video was used now to solve a lot of the problems occurring on a more regular basis, and used instantaneously.

Look, this isn’t a new problem, but there is new technology available to solve these problems — use it. We saw the farce in the World Cup, with a much bigger ball — let’s not wait for soccer to act, let’s do this off our own bat.

Then there’s the issue of punishment of officials. A player transgresses on the field, an official encroaches, and they’re publicly punished, often on video evidence.

Why doesn’t the same standard apply for referees? All those officials who erred in the last few weeks should have to serve a term of suspension, a public suspension — justice isn’t justice unless it’s seen to be done.

The vast majority of people involved in the GAA, players and officials, are honest, I think we all accept that, but when a major mistake is made, honest or not, there has to be a comeback.

If this sort of stuff continues it won’t be just pitch encroachment the GAA will have to worry about, it’s fellas waiting for the officials outside. There should be absolutely no tolerance of those who physically attack or violently abuse an official, and there should be serious suspensions now, but the GAA has a case to answer here too.

You need high standards now to compete at the highest level in the GAA — the same high standards should apply across the board, every official.

There’s too much effort and too much money going into everything now to be denied by a blatantly wrong call from a match official. The GAA can’t hide from this, they can’t wash their hands of it.


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