Interview: Seán Walsh, former Kerry and Munster chairman

Former Kerry and Munster chairman Seán Walsh will this Wednesday begin in earnest his three-year role as chairman of the national referees development body.

You were never a referee but you’ve supervised them during your time in Kerry and Munster?

I have been an administrator for a long number of years at county, provincial and national levels. That’s the experience I have. People will automatically think football because the chairman of the referees committee is from Kerry, but this is an administrative role.

We on the committee won’t be refereeing any football or hurling matches but we’ll be making sure the referees that take the field are in the best possible positions to take charge of all the games they are appointed to.

The committee has been rebranded. Where do you hope to make improvements during your term?

We’ll be starting next Wednesday with our first committee meeting. We met with the Uachtarán and the Ard Stiúrthóir last weekend, as did all the committees. Our brief is very varied and there is a lot of scope for a committee that wants to get stuck into the whole refereeing situation from education to recruitment to looking at the rules.

Our main objective is to provide referees with the back-up to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. If there are rules referees believe aren’t implementable or ones that should be introduced to assist them we will consider them and propose changes to the playing rules committee.

Referees have always received bad press but has it reached a dangerous level?

Ulster secretary Danny Murphy was right when he said referees are analysed far more than they were. They’re probably analysed more than players in some instances.

Players can be forgiven easy but does the same go for referees?

That is the big question. Respect is one word the GAA have tried to use in the area of refereeing and players over the last number of years. That’s the word we will be re- emphasising from both sides: from player to referee as well as referee to player.

It has to work both ways. Everybody in the crowd watching the game has their own ideas of how the game should be refereed. There is only one man assigned to do the job. We have to make sure he has everything at his disposal to do an excellent job.

Pat McEnaney spoke about referees taken criticism on the chin when they deserve it. But is there something to be said for referees being protected more when the criticism is excessive?

When the criticism is so excessive that it takes four or five replays of an incident to decide whether it was or wasn’t a free when the referee has to make a decision in an instant I don’t believe that’s fair.

If you can’t determine whether it’s a free or not with a first look then you shouldn’t be going back to it. The biggest problem facing refs in football is people in crowds think every foul warrants a black card. That’s the area that needs most attention in the immediate future.

We have to use some mechanism to get it out to people what are black card offences and what are yellow card offences. The public don’t have an understanding of what a black card foul is. They believe there is more than five categories of foul for a black card when there is not.

In terms of the tackle in Gaelic football, can anything be done to clear up what remains a grey area?

The last review of the rules attempted to deal with the tackle as best it could. While we’re clearly trying to define it, it’s not clearly understood by the players.

The best way of clearing up the grey area in relation to the tackle is in proper coaching of the tackle as it is defined. Some inter-county teams do this very well and as a result their free count can be lower.

Can you understand why some football people want the game to be refereed as liberally as hurling?

They are two completely different skill-sets and that’s one of the reasons why they are refereed differently. It would be very wrong if fouls, which are fouls in both games, were judged differently. That can’t happen.

There can be no deviation of that. There is no need for a black card in hurling. I think it’s more of a myth one game is more generously refereed than the other because referees are highly trained in both of our sports.

The skill sets are different and for that reason they have to considered differently by referees.


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