Advantage rule ‘clear as mud’ says Alan Nash

The advantage rule has the potential to cause major headaches for club football referees, according to Alan Nash, secretary of the Gaelic Match Officials Association (GMOA).

The rule now permits a referee to call back the action for a free if a fouled player hasn’t obtained an advantage within five seconds of the offence. However, Nash is concerned the administering of the rule will exert incredible pressure on referees.

“The implementation will throw up issues. Tipperary minors were playing at the weekend and a player was fouled going through on goal but was given advantage. He shipped another tackle and blew the ball wide.

“I asked two club referees what they would’ve done and they said the advantage was given so it’s a kick-out. But the referee in charge of the game, who is on the Munster panel, brought the play back.

“It was the right thing to do but you might see referees now calling back the play after five seconds because they are in doubt or simply allowing no advantage at all to be absolutely certain.

“The problem is not only do referees have to count steps but they also now have to count seconds. Doing both is virtually impossible so the whole thing is open to interpretation.

“You’ll have mayhem if referees aren’t applying the rule properly but the new rule is as clear as mud.

“In the dying seconds of a knockout game is a referee going to play advantage and hope it works out for the player who was fouled or is he going to just call the free?

“If the player kicks the ball wide and the free is called back the crowd will be furious.”

Tipperary-based Nash established the unofficial body for club match officials in the wake of poor treatment of referees such as Antrim’s Ray Mathews, the GMOA’s first chairman.

Antrim native Mathews was hospitalised following a county U21 semi-final and quit after punishments handed out to a club were reduced by the Ulster Council. However, Nash gives qualified support to the black card, especially as it will help punish verbal abuse towards a referee.

“What is defined as intimidatory is entirely up to the referee. Before, the ball was brought up 13 metres for dissent or whatever but now with it there can be a black card handed out as well if the referee believes the player has remonstrated with him in an aggressive manner.

“Does all cursing extend to that? You would think so. Again, it’s open to interpretation but there might be no talking to the referees if the rules are followed to the letter of the law.

“If a referee ends up sending off half-a-dozen players for remonstrating will they get the backing from the county boards? All clubs have been informed on the rules. The GAA won’t accept ignorance of them as an excuse because they have been publicised very well. But whether referees are supported in administering them is another thing.”

Nash has concerns too about how referees who take charge of games in both codes will distinguish the new rules of football from hurling.

“Dual referees will have to train themselves not to give the advantage in hurling, but Joe Public isn’t going to know that. It’s about educating the public too because there are a lot of dual referees across the country.”

According to the rules, the maximum number of black card substitutes is three and that includes extra-time.

“Before, extra-time was always a new game,” said Nash. “There will be confusion with Joe Public again.”

At the lower level of competitive club activities, Nash fears club teams may be forced to concede games if they pick up one or two black cards.

“In a junior club match there would be times when a team does not have 15 starting the game. As long as you have 15 by the start of the second half you won’t forfeit the game, but if you lose a player to a black card in the first half what happens then? Referees have a duty to carry out the rules but they will be aware that one team may have plenty of subs while the other team has few if none.

“Might they be more reluctant to dismiss players from one team than the other knowing that they don’t have the subs to come in?

“It’s all well and good at inter-county level but these are the scenarios that could crop up at junior level.”

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