News Colm O'Rourke

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Colm O'Rourke: Fussy referees are a blight on the football landscape

The frustrating lack of consistency in refereeing is of crisis proportions, says Colm O'Rourke

Published 06/03/2011 | 05:00

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L ast weekend I saw football from not just different worlds but different universes. The reason was the style of refereeing.

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On Saturday night, I was in Belfast to see Meath lose to Antrim, and deservedly so. Later I watched the full tape of Kerry and Dublin. On Sunday, I watched the club semi-final between Crossmaglen and Kilmacud and also the tape of Down and Armagh from Saturday night.

The difference in the style and standard of refereeing in the various games was quite amazing. On Saturday night in Belfast, the constant whistling after every contest for possession was an irritant for spectators and caused huge frustration for players and management. There was absolutely no physical contact worth talking about yet a sackful of yellow cards were handed out and inevitably a couple of reds, even if no player seemed to have any idea of what one of the red cards was actually for. Any type of contact led to a yellow card and the consequent hold-ups drove me and everybody else daft.

Sitting down to watch the Dublin-Kerry match was a form of therapy. Players were going flat out for the ball and there was plenty of good hard hitting but there were no yellow cards unless it was very obvious that there was intent involved. It meant that after a foul a player could get up and move the ball on quickly without being penalised by having to wait for the referee to book the guilty party. The process involved in showing a yellow card is now so tedious for some refs that you have time to ring the local Chinese and order curried chicken, chips and some spare ribs and still be back in time for play to restart.

On Sunday, the horror story resumed. A brilliant club game was ruined to an extent by refereeing decisions which made no sense in the overall context of the match. Three were sent off in one of the cleanest, fairest and best games you could hope to see. Kilmacud were far more severely disadvantaged by this while Crossmaglen lost Danny O'Callaghan to a farcical straight red which, thankfully, has been overturned on appeal.

Early on, Kilmacud full-back Kevin Nolan, who has moments of indiscipline, was yellow-carded. No debate. Soon after he got a second yellow for something which I don't believe was even a free never mind another card. A Crossmaglen player coming through went to ground very easily. It was a free out. Instead, red followed yellow. The complexion and mood of the match changed .

In the second half, Nicky McGrath of Kilmacud saw red for a harmless trip, and the frustration of players was complete when Danny O'Callaghan of Crossmaglen got a straight red for a minor barge into a Kilmacud player. So a match which was played in a very fair spirit and should have possibly seen a couple of bookings ended up with three sendings-off. In between, a great game was trying to break out -- if the referee just allowed the players to get on with it.

That evening I watched Down and Armagh, a great manly contest with some marvellous football. There was minimal interference by the referee and the match flowed along at a hectic pace. And there was no shortage of hitting either but it was all in the spirit of the game. I wonder if the referees had been changed around in those four matches would the quality of enjoyment have changed. I think it would.

Football is being destroyed by this over-fussy, interfering approach by some referees. Fouls are not automatic yellow cards and referees should be reluctant to give out cards unless there is an obvious case. Even then there was a time when a player on a yellow card was shown the black book on a subsequent foul to indicate clearly that he was on thin ice. Now it appears there is a rush to get players off. It means that physical contact in most cases is gone.

A good referee is never noticed. I fail to understand why the ref cannot do a quick tick on the back of his yellow card where the number of each player is and let play flow, rather than the long process we have at present. Or let a quick free be taken and come back and do the booking at the next break in play. At present the team that is often penalised is the one in possession as the opposition have the opportunity to regroup.

The official response to criticism of referees showing yellow cards is that they have to stop games from getting out of hand. When was the last time you saw a dirty match? When was the last time you saw a lot of very nasty fouls in a game at county level? I

have not seen one for a very long time. Matches are generally hard-fought but within the spirit of the rules and fouls are therefore mainly of the innocent variety. There is something not quite right then if games are clocking up totals of ten and 12 yellow cards. It is time for the refs to take a pull as far too many games are being decided by sendings-off which are not warranted and yellow cards which are putting the fear of God into players so much so that they are afraid to make a tackle.

At the end of the Kerry-Dublin game, there was an incident which was a bit ugly and out of character with the game up to then. It would be fair to say that Eoghan O'Gara did not headbutt Marc ó Sé but he certainly had his head in ó Sé's face, which drew a reply. The CCCC have been criticised in this column in the past for the lack of consistency in dealing with discipline. I'm glad to say that they have set the wheels in motion in this case and we wait to see if the players seek a personal hearing on their proposed suspensions.

If Paul Galvin had been involved in this incident, then the treatment of Colonel Gaddafi in the media would have looked kind by comparison. He would have been hounded at every turn. It should not be too hard to sort these disciplinary issues out and if some refs cut down yellow cards by at least half then it would be a better league for players, supporters and probably referees too.

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