Friday 18 August 2017

Calm professionalism a lesson for all aspiring referees

Display from man in middle belied gravity of occasion with every key decision spot on, writes Errol Sweeney

The home contingent were not happy in Tallinn on Friday night as their team not only lost 4-0 but had two men sent off and a penalty awarded against them. But, unlike Ireland's play-off experience in Paris two years ago, this was no injustice.

In what can only be described as a breath of fresh air, the referee on Friday night had an excellent game. One of the most important things in life is to look the part and Viktor Kassai from Hungary certainly did. From the outset, and being quite a tall man, he was smart, calm and professionalism personified

He was fit and his movement and positioning on the field was good and he didn't appear at all unnerved by the importance of the occasion to both countries.

All his cautions were, in my opinion, correct and the inevitable red card for the Estonian captain Andrei Stepanov in the 39th minute following a foul on Robbie Keane set the tone for himself and the game from there on in. Stepanov had received a yellow card in the 20th minute for upending Aiden McGeady.

I know of other referees who, having issued one red card, would have been reluctant to issue another (one only has to look back to the 2010 World Cup final when, in my opinion, the downfall of English referee Howard Webb was more what he didn't do, rather than what he did do).

It was his assistant on the far side who appeared to pick up a hand ball by Raio Piiroja while in a tussle with Robbie Keane, but Kassai didn't flinch and produced the red card to Piiroja, who had earlier been booked. This to me is the hallmark of a good referee. Again he could easily have said one red card is enough, but he didn't.

Another thing I liked about Kassai was, for the most part, he was rarely in the picture and allowed the game to flow as much as possible. We always hear about good referees being rarely seen.

Then in the 87th minute Stephen Hunt was brought down and the referee awarded Ireland a penalty. I've heard it said so many times, 'Ah they're down to nine players, don't rub salt into the wounds'. That is not the way to referee a game. If a team is down to seven players it makes no difference. A game is 90 minutes plus what the referee adds on for lost time.

This, in my opinion, was an excellent performance by Kassai and his team and if I was assessing them I would award them eight out of 10 for a job well done. It's surely a lesson for all experienced and aspiring match officials.

Errol Sweeney is a former League of Ireland and South African Premier League referee

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