GAA President Nickey Brennan yesterday came to the defence of Sligo referee Marty Duffy who came in for criticism of his handling of the Derry/Donegal Ulster football championship game on the Sunday Game, specifically in relation to his physical stature.
He said it was “ridiculous” to suggest — as did one of the panellists — that a small man could not referee a big game and called for the comments to be retracted.
“I’d probably fall into the small man category myself, but as a small man I was able to look after myself,” he joked. “Don’t any think that small man can’t handle big men, ask Fan Larkin.”
Brennan said he was disappointed about the criticism of Duffy. At the same time he didn’t take Meath manager Colm Coyle to task for his comments in relation to the appointment of Laois referee Maurice Deegan for their game against Wexford.
He had this to say about the criticism of Duffy: “I hope the people who made the comments might reflect on them. They might offer the appropriate apologies because they have use of technology they may pinpoint errors that officials make.
“That’s understandable to some extent. It must be pointed out that the technology did show that the referee got the decision right in regard to the penalty, so there is a balance here.
“I think this was not about the performance of referees as such. To some extent it was casting aspersions on referees. I think that was very inappropriate. These were experienced officials who have handled many games and I think it was unbecoming of these people to make comments and I hope they rectify them at the weekend.”
Asked if he would look for an apology, he responded: “I think they might reflect on what they said and do what is necessary. That’s as much as I’ll say.”
At a more general level, he insisted that refereeing standards were improving and rubbished suggestions that referees were under instructions to take the physicality out of the games. “The games are physical and will remain so. Players step out of line sometimes and take the law into their own hands. That will not be tolerated. If it is not picked up by the referee, the CCCC will deal with the matter.
“There’s nothing wrong with a good oul’ physical game and a knock here and there is not going to cause any great hassle to anybody once it’s done in the spirit of the match and it’s not done maliciously. And that’s all we are saying to referees.
“I don’t want anybody to go around with the nonsense that referees are trying to stop the physicality of the game. Absolutely not. Look at games Sunday after Sunday and you’ll see what is going on. But, when guys step out of line I think they will be called to book and those people who are blind to those matters should realise the position of the GAA on this.”
Pointing out that they had been monitoring standards since the start of the league, he said he was satisfied that the overall performance of the referees had improved.
“A good indicator of this is (the comments in) those newspapers which do this. The feedback we are getting even through that has generally been quite positive. Referees are human, they will make mistakes and they will continue to make mistakes but overall the standards are generally improving.
“We are always working to improve standards and we will never reduce the efforts to do that.”
He felt the Meath manager had been “a bit frustrated” when he questioned why Maurice Deegan was appointed for their game when the winners were meeting Laois (his own county).
“Things went belly-up on them late in the game and there was a bit of frustration there. I wouldn’t get over-excited by what he said. I don’t see it as something where he crossed the line of no-go area.”
In relation to future policy on referee appointments, he said the matter raised could be discussed in-house.
“If it needs to be addressed if we can, but I certainly would not be making a big issue of it,” he said.
* While agreeing that the attendance at the Clare/Waterford game in Limerick had been disappointing, he expressed the view that overall they could be happy with the level of interest being shown in the championships so far. On the other hand, he felt that the “tightening” of the economic situation will be a factor in crowd figures.
“People have cited the Gaelic Grounds as maybe not the most appropriate venue for the Clare/Waterford game. Munster Council made a decision and obviously they had to live with it. Clearly Waterford supporters for whatever reason — they were somewhat disillusioned with events — didn’t turn up (in numbers). But, if you look at attendances at the two Leinster matches, Carlow looked fantastic and had a big crowd in Ballybofey.”
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