Saturday 10 December 2016

Official view remains out of sync with reality

Those who assess GAA referees know how hard it is to get snap decisions right, writes Dermot Crowe

Published 02/10/2011 | 05:00

A FEW years ago, a member of the Central Refereeing Appointments Committee often despaired at the stack of referee assessment forms that would arrive on his desk for weekly consideration. Referees are assessed in the league and championship and given a performance rating which is taken into account when they are being evaluated for games. But he placed little value on the contents.

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"A batch, like the Golden Pages, would arrive every week and you wouldn't bother your arse looking at many of them. Most assessors are former referees and not very objective. Very rarely did a referee get a poor assessment. There are fellas who you would never put into the white heat of a championship match but they could come back to you and say, 'look at my assessments'."

But assessments are only part of the committee's deliberations and any impression that they have an enormous bearing on the final selection is misplaced. One of the most prominent GAA referees of the last ten years said he had no issue with being regularly assessed and never felt the analysis of his performance was massively at odds with his own estimation.

"You have good assessors, middling ones and so on, like in everything else. There are things you can learn, even for an experienced referee. Like your signals might be bad. Or your positioning. Or how you work with your umpires. You have to take the good with the bad. If you can't take constructive criticism, you are in the wrong game.

"It would not have a major influence on who gets championship games, no. You know who the top referees are and what they are like. If someone hasn't had a final, or is from a different province to the teams in a final, that could influence the decision."

Assessors are now allowed watch match recordings before submitting their reports, allowing them more than the one take afforded the referee. Each referee starts with a score of 100 and is docked marks for any errors they are seen to make. A rating below 80 per cent is considered problematic. "If a lad gets a bad assessment," says one leading referee, "and he has been reasonably good over the years, and he gets a second bad one -- then they send someone out, one of their top men, who will see what's the true story there. Anything above 80 per cent and you are motoring okay."

Games vary wildly, too. Is a referee who scores 85 per cent in an Ulster hurling semi-final really ten per cent more able than his counterpart who gets 75 per cent at a Leinster football final involving two cut-throat rivals and a full house at Croke Park?

As one insider says: "Assessment is a relatively new concept and I am quite sure it has made progress. But while it has made progress it still has some way to go."

This year's 18-man championship referees panel in Gaelic football showed a few changes, three having departed from 2010 after reaching the upper age limit of 50. Pat McEnaney will join that retirement home next year. Referees undergo two annual fitness tests and two written exams on the rules. After that, assessments and other factors influence their progress.

Fifty six referees were used in the National Football League before being whittled down to 18 for championship consideration. The league also saw the reintroduction of Martin Sludden after last year's Leinster final controversy, starting with the Westmeath v Cavan tie in February. "I suppose you can answer that in several ways," says Patrick Doherty, national match officials manager. "Did the man not serve enough punishment? Did he ref any other game that year? He was on the championship list on merit. Does a man have to die for making a mistake?"

Doherty also defends Joe McQuillan's All-Ireland final performance. He believes the last free awarded, and the most critical call, was correct. Personally, my impression at the time was that Barry John Keane had fouled Kevin McManamon.

On repeat inspection, a facility not available to McQuillan, I feel differently but I understand how McQuillan made the call -- it wasn't a clearcut decision. You have a player moving at high velocity, wheeling by a player whose leg is slightly extended, though Keane patently tries to avoid contact. Perhaps where there is any trace of doubt the better option is to side with the defence, especially with the stakes so high. But that assumes McQuillan had doubt in his mind; he showed no trace of it.

The Eoin Brosnan incident, where he was penalised for handling the ball on the ground, also played tricks on the eye. At first it seemed a free to me but with the luxury of repeat viewings I am inclined to alter that position in favour of Brosnan. Even on repeat viewings the Brosnan decision isn't straightforward. A referee makes a snap call and trusts his instincts. In a generally poor, at times lamentable, year for refereeing, I feel McQuillan has good instincts and should be given the benefit of the doubt here despite some questionable decisions.

A free awarded against Aidan O'Mahony on Barry Cahill I feel was correct. Others are uncontested: he erred in not dismissing Ger Brennan and in not penalising Kevin McManamon for two hops which would almost certainly have led to a Bryan Sheehan pointed free. He was also wrong to penalise Paul Galvin for a challenge on Brennan late in the first half.

There were also reservations about the refereeing of the hurling final, and an in vogue leniency that takes its cue not so much from the rulebook as the delectations of the protagonists. To that, Doherty says: "The official view is that a foul is a foul is a foul and we expect the refs to blow every foul -- that is the absolute expectation."

Here, clearly, the official view and the reality are quite some distance apart.

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