Rugby respect for refs stark lesson for GAA
Published 04/05/2009 | 00:00
The All-Ireland football championship kicks off next Sunday, not in Ireland, but 3,000 miles away in New York, and maybe that is a good example of the sometimes illogical decisions that make news in this competition.
And 2009 will be no different.
Sometimes the most bizarre events dominate the football championship for weeks at a time and overshadow the majority of actual games. Remember a few years ago when Kerry footballers were awarded a goal against Tipperary that had a decisive bearing on the result, even though the ball had gone wide, but somehow came back in play? There were seven match officials on duty that day, but nobody saw anything wrong!
Then there was the six-week saga that continued at the height of the summer and actually delayed parts of the Leinster championship while officials of Offaly, Kildare and the Leinster Council argued on how to count to five when it came to bringing on subs. And last year, of course, the greater part of the football championship was dominated by the Paul Galvin/Paddy Russell affair.
These are just some examples of the way the GAA ties itself up in knots with one committee after another sitting in judgement on the most trivial of matters. It can provide lots of fodder for the media, but at times does little to indicate that the GAA can carry out basic business in the proper manner.
No doubt during 2009 we will have the usual quota of 'funny incidents' as the many lawyers of the GAA set about rewriting the rulebook to suit their own ends.
There are many in the GAA who believe that this is all great craic and adds to the levity of the nation, especially in these depressing times. Maybe that is why the GAA, in its 125 years in existence, has never really got around to agreeing, publishing and publicising a set of rules that would be understandable for members and followers. Instead we have, despite some valiant attempts to modernise archaic rules with their many clauses and sub-sections, an Official Guide that is hardly ever read by players or fans.
Little wonder, therefore, that there is such a lack of respect for the rulebook and the referees task in implementing it.
I was struck by this while watching the Leinster-Munster game in Croke Park on Saturday, a game which incidentally doubled the record held for an inter-provincial game in Croker -- Christy Ring attracted over 40,000 for a Railway Cup final in the '60s. Saturday's game was as intense and as pressurised as any GAA match I have seen in Croke Park, yet the overall management of the controlled violence of the game by the referee and the personal discipline of the vast majority of the players was in stark contrast to what we very often see in big GAA championship games.
It was the decisiveness of the referee and his facility for using common sense, rather than the letter of the law, which set the tone for what would be described in Gaelic football circles as bordering on the brutal at times, even though skill and fitness were far and away the dominant themes of the game.
If there are games of similar intensity in the football championship in the next five months, it is safe to say that the consequences will be very different to the rugby game.
You can bet your bottom euro that some players will resort to sneaky fouls aimed specifically at inflicting physical damage to an opponent. We can also expect to see big-name players lying down after the most timid of confrontations in an effort to have an opponent sent off.
Based on the last couple of seasons we will be watching players sticking their faces into opponents and shouting all sorts of personalised abuse and you can be sure that on numerous occasions we will see hordes of players surrounding a referee in mock horror in an attempt to intimidate him into changing his behaviour.
Practically all the leading county teams have been guilty of such unsporting behaviour in recent years and it is hard to see things changing. If the players had a rulebook that could be read in half an hour and understood it might be a help, of course.
But there are more fundamental reasons for this disgusting behaviour of some leading GAA players, starting with a total lack or respect for referees from U-12 all the way up. If the GAA really wants to improve the position of referees and bring them to the same level of respect as rugby they should start with under-age games right now.
New president Christy Cooney could start that process but since all the other presidents of the past 50 years never bothered doing so, I will not be holding my breath. The golden rule in the GAA at all levels is that referees are dispensable -- there is always another one around the corner.
Footnote: Many millions have been spent on physical development by the GAA's 3,000 clubs on playing fields, dressing-rooms and club-rooms, with marvellous results. These mainly involve players and club members, but when I visited the fine new GAA pitch in Abbeylara on the borders of Longford, Cavan and Westmeath I saw a wonderful new facility. All around the playing pitch the club has installed a wide walk with a user-friendly surface 500 metres in length.
The aim is to encourage people in the area to use this track as a safe place for going for a walk and is aimed at all ages, but particularly older people who are afraid to walk on public roads because of traffic.
Already many locals have started using the track from early morning to late evening and it is something that could prove popular at lots of GAA clubs.
It is a great example of the GAA making their resources available to the whole local community, not just the players.