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Martin Breheny: Violence and video analysis -- would you become a ref?

LAST Friday evening, a referee awarded a free late in a ladies football final in Tyrone. It was converted into the winning point and when the match ended, the referee was knocked unconscious by a spectator. So too was an official who came to the referee's assistance.

On Sunday, a referee awarded a late free in the Dublin-Kildare clash in Croke Park. It too produced the winning point and shortly afterwards the referee was sent for trial.

Cormac Reilly (Meath) has since appeared before several kangaroo courts, charged with doing his job. He judged that Bernard Brogan had been fouled, either as he began his run or seconds later.

Once he had made that call, the fact that the sides were level was irrelevant. Or at least it should be, yet we keep hearing about how 'common sense' demanded that even if he spotted a foul he should have ignored it and nursed the game safely through to a draw.

It's a bizarre argument, but then there are -- and always have been -- some referees who feel that a very close game should, if at all possible, end level. Indeed, it's one of the reasons why Kildare can feel disappointed because it's quite likely that another referee would have taken the populist route and not awarded a free.

Whatever about 'common sense,' the debate goes on about whether or not it was a free.

My view? I simply don't know. From what I saw on TV replays, I would have given the benefit of the doubt to Andriu MacLochlainn, but did Reilly spot something that wasn't picked up by the cameras?

Given his unhesitating reaction, one suspects that he did. Having had the benefit of video reruns, TV analysts can be as dogmatic as they wish (and they won't last long if they're not, so isn't there a touch of self-preservation about their stridency?), but just as the naked eye doesn't spot everything, neither do the TV cameras.

Yet, if the referee catches something that the cameras miss, the post-match analysis will focus on what's available rather that what actually happened. That can leave the referee wrongly portrayed as an incompetent fool (he can expect to have some previous 'mistake' thrown into the argument) and respect for the breed declines further.

That brings us back to Simon Brady, the referee who was punched unconscious in Tyrone.

Every time a top referee is found guilty in the 'court of video analysis', it ripples all the way down the line. The further you go, the less the respect, until it reaches a stage where some thug feels entitled to attack a referee.

The natural extension of that is that fewer people will take up refereeing, leading to a continuing drop in standards. That will spark more controversies and, unfortunately, more of the venom that left two people unconscious. In 10 years' time, will there be enough referees to keep GAA programmes running?

Referees will be subjected to scrutiny but the intense TV focus on them has grown wearying, especially since it does not apply across the board to all sports. Besides, it achieves nothing more than fuel for a row that can't be settled.

TV covers rugby differently. How much slow motion frame-by-frame analysis have you seen of rugby referees' decisions? A match-deciding penalty can be awarded in the closing minute and it's taken as correct because the referee's word is regarded as the ultimate law.

The argument is that rugby referees are much better than their GAA or soccer counterparts. Really? So they never have any doubts or get anything wrong? That's not the real world folks.

However, it is real that respect for rugby referees is an article of faith, so rebellion is not accepted. The opposite applies in the GAA, where it has now become almost a matter of course for the referee to be criticised, and not always after close games either.

In fairness to Kieran McGeeney, he remained quite restrained after Sunday's game. He was very frustrated by Reilly's decision, especially since Kildare were the victims of what was clearly a wrong call against Down in last year's semi-final, but he articulated it in a calm, measured way. He was perfectly entitled to do that.

That's altogether different from the toxic phone-ins, tweets, etc, where referees are subjected to abuse from disappointed supporters who can only see one side. It's different too from the TV overkill when it comes to analysing referees' decisions.

Sure, referees get things wrong but of far greater concern should be the distinct probability that the GAA is heading for a referee shortage if current trends continue. Would you take up refereeing, now that violence has extended to the ladies game too?

london the beacon for aspiring lesser lights

FROM the peaks of optimism to the depths of despair -- all in the space of two months. That's the tailspin experience of Cavan football who began the month of May as All-Ireland U-21 football finalists.

Eight weeks on, there's no U-21 title and the seniors are out of the All-Ireland race after two defeats. Not only that, but the cumulative score of Galway (U-21)/Donegal-Longford (senior) against Cavan was 6-46 to 2-28.

Contrast that change of fortune with London, who lost six of seven League games in Division 4 and ended June in Round 2 of the qualifiers for the first time after taking Mayo to extra-time and beating Fermanagh.

That's what keeps the flame alight.

GAA unique in sporting world for wasting talent

TRY this for an All Stars football team: Gary Connaughton (Westmeath); John O'Brien (Louth), Barry Owens (Fermanagh), Dessie Finnegan (Louth); Martin McMahon (Clare), Darren Hughes (Monaghan), Charlie Harrison (Sligo); Paddy Keenan (Louth), Dick Clerkin (Monaghan); Eamonn O'Hara (Sligo), Paul Finlay (Monaghan), Adrian Marren (Sligo); Seanie Johnston (Cavan), Denis Glennon (Westmeath), Dessie Dolan (Westmeath).

It's unlikely any of them will be nominated this year, but then their season is already over as they come from some of the eight counties eliminated from the championship last Saturday.

Their next competitive county engagement will be on February 4/5 next when the league restarts. That's 32 weeks when the GAA tells eight county squads they have no competition for them.

What other sport in the world leaves so many top players without elite competition for eight months? You're right -- none.

Irish Independent