Refs boss ready to crack down on verbal abuse
REFEREES boss Pat McEnaney says he will direct match officials to clamp down firmly on verbal abuse in the coming weeks if it "becomes a cancer in our game".
What is called 'sledging' in cricket circles was extremely prevalent between Cork and Kerry players during last Sunday's Munster SFC semi-final. Live television repeatedly captured players goading each other and that contributed significantly to several flash points, apparently involving foul or offensive language, at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
McEnaney, who admitted that he had noticed the increased occurrence of these incidents, said referees will start punishing such behaviour if it becomes a prominent feature in matches.
Under GAA Rule 5.24, "to threaten or to use abusive or provocative language or gestures to an opponent" should be punished with an official caution (a yellow card) and a repeat offence in the same game should result in the offender being sent off.
Rule 5.31 recommends the same punishment if a player uses abusive or provocative language/gesture to one of his own team-mates.
Yet, it is virtually unknown for a player to be yellow-carded for 'verbals', even though it has become increasingly prominent in the past decade, with Armagh even alleging that one of their players was the subject of sectarian abuse in the game against Laois in Portlaoise during this year's Allianz League.
McEnaney was regarded as the top football referee in the country until his recent retirement and new GAA president Liam O'Neill appointed him to replace Michael Curley as chairman of the National Referees Committee.
His responsibilities include making sure match officials are fully up to speed with rules and trends during the championship.
The Monaghan man admitted that one big difficulty for officials in relation to booking players for verbal provocation is that "the referee must hear the abuse very clearly themselves before they can take action".
He added: "I've no doubt David Coldrick would have had great difficulty hearing the players in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. I was at the Armagh/Tyrone game myself and you couldn't hear yourself with the (crowd) noise.
"It is not the easiest thing to punish because of that. But, if we believe it is becoming a cancer in the game, we will be highlighting it with our officials.
"Referees are exactly like players. We have to be evolving all the time and reacting to developments in the game," he stressed.
Since taking over his new role, McEnaney has already increased the number of times championship referees are meeting for debriefing and reviews of their performances.
"We're now meeting every three weeks because I felt once-a-month was leaving too much time elapse before reviewing incidents, especially with the amount of games we are dealing with some weekends," he said.
McEnaney believes this pro-active attitude has already contributed to cutting out a lot of body-checking, pointing out that Coldrick went back after a break in play to punish a player for that offence at Pairc Ui Chaoimh last Sunday.
He said that he was also very encouraged that the Armagh versus Tyrone match was played in a particularly sporting manner.