Four-time All-Ireland SHC final referee Barry Kelly has condemned the reaction to the standard of hurling refereeing in the opening two weekends of the Allianz League.
The Westmeath man, who took charge of the 2006, ‘08, ‘12, and ‘14 deciders, took exception to how Jackie Tyrrell and Ursula Jacob supported John Kiely’s comments following Limerick’s defeat to Galway on Sunday without providing evidence.
Former Kilkenny defender Tyrrell described the games as being “glorified free-taking competitions” and asked if hurling was going down the route of being a non-contact sport.
Kelly said: “I was a bit annoyed that Jackie and Ursula went on about the state of hurling, agreeing with what John Kiely said, and they couldn’t offer one piece of video evidence to back it up.
“You can make blanket statements like that all you want but they don’t carry much weight if you don’t prove it. If they’re so strong about it, show us where James Owens made so many errors in Salthill or show us where Johnny Murphy did the same in Thurles.
“The other element of this is because there are no crowds you do notice the whistle a lot more now. The referees generally use a Fox 40 whistle. I was in Nowlan Park, mentoring with Seán Stack, and it is piercing.
“The result was 1-28 to 3-15 and for each of those scores there was a whistle. There were easily 60 shots at goal, so you blow the whistle where there was a score or a wide and for the puck-out. That’s 120. Then you add the frees, 150 so that’s twice a minute and you’re only giving 30 frees so the referee’s whistle feels more dominant because it doesn’t have to compete with the sound of 25,000 people.”
Kelly highlights how the game has changed and played through the lines therefore creating the potential for more frees.
“In his illustrious career, Jackie Tyrrell never played a 25-yard pass out of defence. Jackie got it, I was often near him when he did and he would pirouette onto his left and absolutely lamp it 90 yards down the field to where the likes of Eoin Larkin was. It was a nightmare for referees because your job was to get down there.
“Hurling has changed since then, it’s played between the lines and you’re going to have more contact. It’s not the referees’ fault that hurling has changed.
“I’m not criticising Paul Kinnerk or John Kiely who have brought tremendous success to Limerick but their game is about contact and with that you win and concede more frees.
“Other than hooking and blocking, the only contact that is truly legitimate remains the shoulder. Hands are going in and the player in possession is being slapped hard. It’s not really a tackle. You can’t dislodge the ball in hurling by tackling like in football.”
Kelly believes the new advantage rule does not allow referees to contribute as much as they want to the flow of the game but says: “Where players were only hoping for advantage before now there is advantage. Previously, we were bringing it back so often that there was no advantage.”
Having spoken in favour of it at county board level in Westmeath, Kelly still supports the sin bin but can see how it has made life tougher for referees.
“There have probably been more rule changes in the last seven or eight years than in the previous 40. You’re taking one of the most difficult field officiating jobs and making it more difficult. Lads blow smoke about rugby but the ball mightn’t move five yards in 10 minutes with scrums and resets and getting to the try-line.
“I’ve seen the sin bin a couple of times. Seán Stack had a textbook one in Nowlan Park where the Antrim player (Keelin Molloy) was going to get a shot off but was fouled by Kilkenny player (Conor Browne).
“Now whether he was going to score or not is irrelevant — it’s that he was denied a goal-scoring opportunity. But I can see the concerns that more clarity has to be brought to the rule because it is adding another layer of difficulty to the job.”