Eugene McGee: Assessors' ticking boxes only undermine referees
One of the great mysteries of our time is what exactly it is 'referee assessors' do. Like most people, I do not know who they are, what their terms of reference are, how they go about their business, who appoints them, what they actually assess, or what action they take, if any, as a result of their deliberations?
We do know there are assessors at most inter-county games, that they have a score-sheet type document in which they are supposed to tick a large number of boxes. We know that because we have seen some of these people in prominent places, such as press boxes, taking notes, etc, and it has dawned upon us that they must be referee assessors.
Assessors have been in place for five or six years and most are said to be former referees. They have emerged as pivotal figures in the refereeing business and have been the subject of some strong criticism by current inter-county managers.
A few years ago one of the most prominent hurling managers around stated after a game: "I am not criticising referees, no way, but there is an assessor in the stand screwing referees and I can put it no other way."
The main bone of contention is that assessors have undue influence on the behaviour of referees based on the reports they submit. It is said that each assessor watches the game and has a list of boxes to tick based on the referee's behaviour in the game.
Now, we have heard some quite ridiculous reports of the results of these assessors' work. For instance, there was the report a few years ago that a well-known referee, who was acting as umpire and was wearing a hat when facing strong sunlight, had the referee chastised by the assessor because the other umpire did not also wear a hat at the same time.
Apparently the referee is responsible for umpires wearing uniform gear and because only one umpire wore a hat, that rule was breached. You couldn't make it up.
More seriously, a lot of GAA people, mentors, players and fans, seem to believe that the detailed reports of these assessors are turning some referees into robots.
They have undergone all the refereeing courses, got themselves to the required level of fitness, know the playing rules off by heart and have decided to abide strictly by this rule book, come hell or high water.
Many such referees believe that if they follow that direction, the assessor will be able to tick the right boxes as per the official guide.
But, of course, refereeing was never meant to be like that, because any ref worth his or her salt needs a dose of cop-on, so that the rules can be applied in a manner that suits the particular game or scenario.
The refereeing requirements for a Munster hurling final can be very different to a first-round game in the local county championship, even though in theory the exact same rules are meant to apply. But there should always be room for a sensible approach to those rules.
Many believe, rightly or wrongly, that the rash of yellow and red cards being handed out by referees has been caused by the assessors' ticking off those little boxes in the stand.
Referees who do not have full confidence in their own ability to officiate a game with a bit of give and take, will stick rigidly to the rule book and make sure the right boxes are ticked off by the assessor.
This may also be the reason for the inordinate number of frees awarded in most football games.
A wiser referee will ignore many fouls, which, while technically correct, are not serious enough to interfere with the play to the detriment of either team.
"Let the game flow" is the usual plea heard from the fans, but particularly in hurling, that expression has been taken to extremes by certain referees and that is not correct either.
Statistics and analysis can dictate certain ground rules, but they alone cannot create good referees -- or players for that matter. The same applies to statisticians who appear at half-time in dressing-rooms to inform an unfortunate midfielder that he failed to win any of his own kick-outs in the first half. How that news must cheer him up!
Refereeing needs to be freed from the vice-grip of the rule book. This has already eliminated any legal physical contact in the game, such as the fair shoulder which is now wrongly blown up by the vast majority of referees.
Maybe the rule book should be rewritten from top to bottom in plain English without the clauses and subsections so that everybody can really understand them -- particularly the referees.
•Last Tuesday, Castleknock, led by dual star Ciaran Kilkenny, won the Dublin minor football championship for the first time.
this was a truly remarkable achievement when you bear in mind that this is a very young club, founded in 1998; is based in a part of Dublin rarely associated with Gaelic games and is surrounded by two powerful senior clubs -- St Brigid's and Oliver Plunkett's/Eoghan Rua, recent Dublin SFC finalists.
Castleknock actually supplied seven players to the Dublin minor hurlers and footballers who played in both All-Ireland finals this year.
The mixture of dedicated native Dubs and GAA-loving 'culchies', which has served so many Dublin clubs so well in the past, is behind Castleknock and their arrival is a great boost to the notion of propagating the GAA in parts of Dublin which did not have a GAA tradition.