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Respect for a referee it's not the GAA way

ANARCHY rules in the GAA, or so it seems after two more bouts of trouble and strife this past weekend. From red cards and refs being accosted in Limerick, to disallowed goals in Longford, various losing parties vented their spleen against the application -- they would claim misapplication -- of the playing rules.

Coming hot on the heels of the previous week's controversies -- trial by TV and the ongoing disciplinary travails of Paul Galvin -- these latest two instalments of Whistlegate have served as an early-season reminder of the GAA's endless capacity to generate refereeing controversy.

So then, who or what is to blame -- bad refereeing or bad tackling; bad karma or a badly constructed rulebook?

We'll try and answer that conundrum anon, but first up an important rider: no referee deserves to run the gauntlet of abuse that Michael Duffy faced from some Portlaoise supporters at the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday.

As already remarked upon in yesterday's Evening Herald, the GAA has an endemic problem when it comes to players, managers and fans refusing to accept the referee's decision, perverse or otherwise.

The heat of battle, you may argue, is no time for philosophical reflection but maybe the protestors should pause, take a deep breath and consider the following: The more you rage against the refereeing machine, the less candidates you will have volunteering for this thankless task with an inevitable knock-on effect on refereeing standards. Then where will we all be?

Enough sermonising from the pundit's pulpit, and back to the specifics of the GAA's two latest refereeing controversies.


Here is a classic example of the old truism that rules are rules, even when misapplied.

The seemingly well-established facts are as follows. Longford were trailing Limerick by 1-8 to 0-9 in the dying seconds of their NFL Division Four fixture at Pearse Park on Saturday. The home side were awarded a close-in free, Francie McGee went for goal but his shot was blocked. In the ensuing scramble, Seamus Hannon booted the ball to the net for an apparent Longford winner.

Except? Referee Seán Carroll had disallowed it on the basis that the game had ended once the initial free was blocked. Only one problem: under the experimental rules being applied during this league, half-time or full-time cannot be signalled until the ball has crossed a boundary line. And this only happened in Longford when Hannon fired home.

Ergo, the goal should have stood and Longford officials -- in demanding that they be declared winners or else that the game be refixed -- have gone on record to say the referee later admitted his mistake.

Based on all the above, only the hardest heart would fail to sympathise with Longford's plight. Unfortunately, the same could be said for Shay Given & Co last November but -- under soccer rules -- the 'Hand of Gaul' goal could not be erased from the record after the event.

Different sport, same principle applies. Noted rulebook expert Gerry McDermott points us in the direction of the 2009 Official Guide, Part 1, Rule 7.10(n), which culminates in the line: "No objection or counter-objection may be submitted on grounds that a referee had incorrectly allowed or failed to allow a score."

In other words, Carroll may have erred in failing to allow Hannon's goal, but you can't overturn a result on that basis. Another clause of Rule 7.10(n) stipulates that an objection can be upheld on the grounds that "a score allowed by the referee was not recorded by him or that a score was incorrectly recorded by him" -- for example, you can successfully appeal if one of your legitimate scores was incorrectly recorded in favour of the opposition, consequently altering the result.

This clearly didn't happen at Pearse Park. "I would have great sympathy with Longford," says McDermott, "but I am only going on what the rules state."

But what about the 'fair play replay' of 1998, where Offaly hurlers were granted a refixture of their replayed All-Ireland semi-final even though Clare were leading by three points when the final whistle sounded?

Different circumstance, different rule: back in '98 Jimmy Cooney mistakenly called time with more than two minutes of normal time remaining (leaving aside injury time, which is at the referee's discretion). Part 2 of the Official Guide clearly states that inter-county championship matches shall consist of two periods of 35 minutes each and, since this didn't happen, Croke Park's Games Administration Committee was obliged to refix the game.


Leaving aside their post-match complaint about interpretation of the hand-pass rule, it is fair to surmise that Portlaoise were hopping mad with Michael Duffy primarily because he chose to send off wing-back Brian Mulligan for his neck-high challenge on Shane Hickey of Kilmurry-Ibrickane, even though the incident happened a matter of seconds after the throw-in.

By the time Duffy's red card was produced, barely 40 seconds had elapsed. Which brings us to an unofficial 'rule' that you won't find anywhere in the Official Guide -- "don't send off a player in the first minute because he hasn't warmed up and, sure, he didn't really mean it".

There are two obvious problems with this lenient interpretation, however. Firstly, the referee is not obliged to take the timing of a foul into consideration. Secondly, as Gerry McDermott reminds: "The rules are not written in such a manner that the referee has to decide on a player's intentions. He merely goes on the act, on what he sees."

So then, here was a judgement call by Duffy, who was within yards of the play, and he clearly concluded that Mulligan's challenge was sufficiently dangerous to warrant the ultimate censure. Again, to quote Rule 5.6 from the Playing Rules of Gaelic Football, to "behave in any way which is dangerous to an opponent" is a sending-off offence.

Portlaoise can moan all they like about "joke" decisions ... but this is no laughing matter and when the dust settles, club officials might reflect on the blatant lack of respect for officialdom displayed by some members and supporters. Then again, maybe not. It's not the GAA way.