A bad day for the men in white

JUST when you thought the Championship was settling down, along comes Louth-Meath, Joe Sheridan, Dick Turpin, and the most infamous touchdown in Croke Park since either a) Vincent Clerc got a match-winning try for France in 2007 or b) those two “lovebirds” got freaky on the field back in 2002.

You’re familiar with the photograph from Sunday which shows Meath player Joe Sheridan about to pop the ball into the net for the infamous winning goal at headquarters since... well, nothing compares, really.

But the static figure of the goal umpire, in the other corner of the photograph, is what’s caught our eye. Everyone is up in arms about referee Martin Sludden’s call, but one question begs to be answered.

What was that umpire doing?

“According to the rulebook,” says GAA referees chief Mick Curley, “umpires decide on scores, wide-balls, incidents of aggressive foul play off the ball and so on, 45s and 65s.”

Fair enough, but what we’re interested in is how that operates among the team of officials — for instance, is the man in black obliged by rules to listen to the man in white, or is their working relationship something they work out for themselves?

“The referee consults the umpire about matters, but if he wants to he can go in and tell the umpire to put up the flag for a score or whatever,” says Curley.

“If he has a question he can consult one or both umpires, but there is no protocol which means he’s bound to consult them on issues. It’s up to the referee to decide how he goes about doing that, how he consults them and so on. If he has his mind made up about something, he can just instruct his umpires as to what he wants rather than just consulting them.

“The referees are the final arbiters. They have the option to consult their umpires, which they often use, but there are other instances, and Sunday appears to have been one of them, where Martin (Sludden) appears to have been satisfied with his decision.”

THERE have been some odd umpirial calls (sorry) in the last couple of years, with the intervention of the white-coated official in the U21 Munster hurling final between Clare and Tipperary two years ago leading to scenes similar to the uproar in Croke Park on Sunday.

Even in Thurles on Sunday, a Ben O’Connor free in the first half looked wide but was awarded by the officials, despite loud protests by Waterford defenders. Such vagueness is, unfortunately, a championship commonplace.

But last Sunday in Croke Park takes the biscuit. What makes it worse is that the umpire for Sheridan’s swan-dive is perfectly positioned at the goalpost, looking intently at the Meath forward as he rolls across the goal-line.

If he was out of position or had his view blocked by a player, it could have been written off as an unfortunate error, but he didn’t. As per Mick Curley’s comments, he was well within his rights to draw Sludden’s attention to the possibility the goal wasn’t legitimate. He’d have been well within his rights to draw Sludden’s attention to the opinion of the other umpire if he wasn’t sure.

His failure to do so will make it tougher for the GAA to recruit men for the white coats in the future in general, and more specifically, it’ll stain the memory of Louth’s first Leinster final in half a century.

And what makes it all so much worse is somewhere in luxury suite in a Johannesburg hotel, the oily one himself, Sepp Blatter, is reading the paper over smoked salmon on his toast and chuckling to his lackeys: “These are the people who were shouting for video replays, you know...”


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