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THERE was a time when the GAA moved swiftly and decisively to defend the honour of officials who were criticised by players or managers, handing out suspensions for loose talk deemed to have crossed an invisible line.

It's 25 years since former Galway hurling manager and current Irish Independent columnist Cyril Farrell was suspended for two months for uttering a less-than-flattering appraisal of John Bailey's refereeing performance in the 1986 All-Ireland final against Cork.

Farrell ignored the sanction and continued on as usual, running the line for a National League game at Pairc Ui Chaoimh a few weeks after the suspension was imposed. Croke Park ignored his act of defiance.

Over subsequent years the GAA remained unsure of how to deal with managers who criticised referees. They continued to impose suspensions (banishing managers to the stand) but deep down they were always unhappy with the concept of reacting to the spoken word, however critical.

In recent years, no action was taken at all, but now it's understood that following an increase in the level of criticism of referees/umpires, the rule which allows sanctions to be imposed may be applied.

Of course, times have changed, with the advent of social media networks. The rule states that sanctions can be imposed, arising from derogatory comments in interviews, but what about criticisms posted on Twitter, as has happened quite often this year and in particular this week?

An opinion posted on Twitter doesn't constitute an interview so does that mean that the GAA cannot take action, however personal or critical the attack may be?

GAA communications director Lisa Clancy says Croke Park are working on producing guidelines for the use of social media across a wide range of issues. They are consulting with other sporting organisations and the GPA and hope to publish the new guidelines by the end of the year.

Quite how they deal with the new phenomenon of players making severe criticisms of referees via Twitter remains to be seen. It probably wasn't something Michael Cusack, Maurice Davin and the lads considered in Hayes' Hotel, Thurles, on that famous November day in 1884.

martin breheny

Irish Independent