Referees chief Willie Barrett has rejected Davy Fitzgerald’s suggestion that hurling referees are being put under too much pressure to carry out diktats from Croke Park, leading to unnecessary red cards being doled out.
Following his team’s 1-17 to 2-11 defeat to Limerick on Sunday, Wexford boss Fitzgerald claimed referees are “on edge” because of instructions, issued at a review meeting last week, to clamp down on head-high challenges.
The directives given to referees ahead of the league were “absolutely necessary”, insisted referees development chairman Barrett, who refuted the argument too much pressure is being put on the men in the middle.
The opening weekend of the Allianz hurling league saw three players receive straight red cards. Wexford’s Liam Ryan was dismissed for shoving Limerick’s Cian Lynch into the advertisement boarding at Wexford Park, with Seamus Flanagan accompanying Ryan to the line after taking umbrage with how his teammate had been challenged.
The red shown to Clare’s Tony Kelly for a head-high challenge on Tipperary’s Pádraic Maher at Semple Stadium on Saturday was the most contentious call of the weekend.
Nine-time All-Ireland winning Kilkenny hurler Tommy Walsh, who disagreed with Kelly’s sending-off, said referees need more leniency from their assessors. Former Waterford manager Derek McGrath, who described Kelly’s challenge as “innocuous”, agreed with Fitzgerald’s remarks about the pressure on referees from above.
Barrett is adamant the instructions to referees at the recent review seminar did not amount to unnecessary tinkering. He maintained there is no reason why there should be a challenge to the head when a player has the sliotar.
“We looked at an awful lot of clips in both hurling and football [from last year]. We felt it was necessary to ensure the tackle to the head, in both hurling and football, is eradicated out of our games. We did tell our referees to be vigilant on it, beginning with the national leagues. And where it occurred and is not accidental, then a red card is to be issued and that’s a must,” Barrett told the Examiner.
“We’d be very strong in our beliefs that if you have the ball in your hand and a player comes in and tackles you head-high, how can he get the ball that way. It is a strike to the head, for what?”
Head-high tackles, stressed the referees boss, cannot be allowed to become acceptable simply because hurlers are wearing protective gear.
“The fact they are wearing a helmet in hurling covers over some of the challenges that may previously have led to blood. We felt we needed to clamp down on the challenge to the head because other codes are looking at it and all the things that can arise from such challenges. We felt now is the time, at the beginning of the year, where we should ensure that rule is applied”
Referees will be called to another review meeting after round three of the football and hurling league respectively.