Referees do game no justice with lack of common sense
If Shefflin and Horgan are the problem when it comes to discipline, then Croke Park has a real crisis on its hands
If Henry Shefflin and Patrick Horgan are a problem, what's the solution? And if Barry Kelly and James McGrath are a solution, what's the problem?
Basically, it comes down to this: bad refereeing decisions may have cost Cork the Munster title and ended Kilkenny's reign as All-Ireland champions. Luckily for Horgan, who was sent off on a straight red card by McGrath in the Munster final, the decision was overturned so he was back for Cork's championship relaunch against Kilkenny last Sunday.
There can be no such reprieve for Shefflin, who was banished to the dug-out by Kelly just before half-time on a second yellow card last Sunday.
Shefflin had picked up the first yellow for an innocuous offence, yet in the Clare-Galway game, Joe Canning was hauled to the ground by a rugby-style tackle by a Clare defender 10 minutes into the second half and didn't even get a free. Nor was the opponent sanctioned by referee Brian Gavin.
Same sport, different rules – any wonder players and spectators are frustrated? There will always be a degree of inconsistency but what has unfolded over the last few weeks is bringing hurling refereeing into disrepute. If it continues, disrepute will morph into a complete lack of respect for how the game is being administered.
If hurling supporters nationwide were surveyed three weeks ago on whom they thought most likely to be sent off over the next five games, it's most unlikely that anybody would have nominated Horgan or Shefflin.
If the same survey asked for two names who were likely to be the victims of sending-off offences, it's certain that Horgan and Shefflin would have figured prominently. Yet, in an unexpected role reversal, the pair were adjudged by two of the top referees to be sufficiently indisciplined as to merit dismissal.
Despite Horgan's red card having been rescinded, McGrath was still defending his decision last weekend, telling the 'Sunday Independent': "I can only base my decision on a split second and from what I saw at the time, I felt it was dangerous and I feel I made the right decision."
The truth is that he didn't have to make a split-second decision, as a referee is allowed to consult with linesmen and/or umpires "concerning infringement of the playing rules, in particular, rough or dangerous play, striking, hitting or kicking". That blows the split-second defence out of the water. McGrath could have sought a second opinion (Kelly and Gavin were linesmen) before making a call which possibly decided the outcome of one of the biggest games of the year.
As for Shefflin's first yellow card last Sunday, there were, in my opinion, several other incidents of a similar – or indeed more serious – nature which drew no sanction.
Of course, the only opinion that counts is that of the referee and his assistants (if he consults them) but surely the benefit of the doubt should go to the players in borderline cases such as those involving Shefflin and Horgan.
A comment like that usually draws accusations of a play for populism so here's the counter-argument. Galway's David Burke should have been sent off in the Leinster final for jabbing his hurley into Danny Sutcliffe after play had stopped, but referee Johnny Ryan let him off with a yellow.
Any mention of common sense draws hoots of derision from the refereeing classes as they point out that the term is nowhere to be found in the rule book. More's the pity.
Pierce Freaney, a man with vast experience in refereeing administration, questioned in a match programme recently what common sense meant.
"Is there a definition?" he asked. Surely the answer is in the words 'common sense'. Suffice to say, if referees used more of it and less of the hard case law which they find in a truly ludicrous rule book, there would be much less angst.
For example, it is an offence "to strike or to attempt to strike an opponent with a hurley". The sanction is a red card, with the suspension decided by the severity of the pull.
There's no reference to whether the strike is intentional, accidental or reckless, which means that if referees applied the rule to the letter of the law a player would be sent off virtually every time his hurley made contact with an opponent's body, in which case the only two left at the end would be the goalkeepers.
Referees use 'common sense' to get around that nonsense but not to avoid sending off the likes of Shefflin, Horgan and indeed Richie Hogan, who was red-carded in spurious circumstances in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final against Limerick. How daft is that?