Makeover for men in white amid umpiring overhaul
The GAA's 'men in white coats' are about to become a thing of the past.
An overhaul of the entire umpiring system used in Gaelic games, brought before the GAA's Management Committee and Central Council over the weekend, includes a proposals to dump the traditional white coats for more modern attire.
As part of a raft of new measures aimed at improving the standard of umpiring, the dress code for the officials, whose priority is to adjudicate on scores, is to undergo an extensive makeover.
The white coats, which have been in use for as long as anyone can remember, could be replaced by uniforms similar to those used in International Rules, or tracksuits.
An age limit, slightly above the 50 mark now being imposed on referees, is also in the pipeline.
The National Referees Committee will be asked to implement a series of proposals, ranging from proper training of umpires to the certification of those who pass the required standard, as part of the overhaul.
It is anticipated that a new panel of trained umpires will be in place prior to next year's championships.
The selection of umpires for big games may be taken away from referees, though this has yet to be thrashed out. It was recommended to the Management Committee that umpires should be appointed in pairs for provincial championship games and then be drawn from a panel for All-Ireland qualifiers, quarter-finals, semi-finals and final.
Umpires have come more sharply into focus in recent years on the back of a number of controversial decisions.
Two in particular this summer have prompted an internal Croke Park assessment of their roles and a look at the best ways that they can improve the standard and image of the officials.
Meath's Leinster football final triumph against Louth in July came only after referee Martin Sludden awarded a Joe Sheridan goal when the Meath player had carried the ball over the goal-line deep into injury-time.
While on the ground, Sheridan attempted to make contact with ball with his boot but missed, creating the perception that he threw the ball to the net.
According to the incensed Louth players who surrounded the official, Sludden had told his umpire at the right-hand post to raise the green flag and signal the awarding of the goal. Sludden hasn't yet commented publicly on the episode.
Then at the end of August, Down were awarded a goal when Benny Coulter, who later admitted he was in the square as he got the touch, fisted in for their controversial first-quarter goal that turned the tide in the All-Ireland semi-final against Kildare.
Referee Pat McEnaney consulted with one of his umpires before allowing the goal to stand but instantly realised a mistake had been made when he caught a glimpse of it on the big screen on his way back out to the middle of the field.
That decision incensed Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney, who wondered aloud afterwards how the GAA could count the number of times his assistant Aidan O'Rourke had been on the field of play in their previous game against Meath, but they struggled to determine what was and wasn't a score.
Throughout the year there has been controversy over the awarding of points in championship matches, with TV replays exposing how umpiring decisions have been wrong.
Up to now, umpires have been personally selected by the referee in charge and are usually friends or clubmates of the official who serve in his team at club fixtures and matches of all profiles.
In McEnaney's case, one of his regular umpires is one of the top inter-county referees, Joe McQuillan.
The umpires are generally people with a good understanding of the game who have built up a level of trust with the relevant referee.
That level of knowledge of the game is to be scrutinised in the months ahead.
Some undertake training courses as it is, but more intensive courses are now set to become mandatory for those wishing to continue or commence umpiring.
It is anticipated that a panel of inter-county umpires will be established once they meet the criteria to be set out.
A national training course will be established early in the new year and once certification is achieved, umpires will be deemed ready to officiate at inter-county games. In time, the certification may be rolled out across minor, U-21 inter-county games and even club games.
The proposals are to be discussed with a view to implementation at the next meeting of the referees committee.