Friday 23 March 2018

Refs take note -- Feelings get hurt in big, bad world

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

So Anthony Masterson apologises and will, heretofore, wear his remorse like a hair shirt. That's the thing about putting it in writing. Your sin gets dressed in formal clothing. It acquires a permanency. Officialdom finds God in small things and, so, the pursuit of Wexford's goalkeeper has borne the air of an old politburo, flexing its Communist muscle.

Perhaps they'll put a watchtower near his house.

Honestly, did this story not make you feel even the tiniest bit uncomfortable? Masterson spoke intemperately to a radio reporter after Wexford's controversial eviction from the football championship by Limerick. He shouldn't have said what he said, we know that.

But, in terms of officiating, this season has been one long screech of tyres and, frankly, Limerick's winning point looked like an extension of that genre. A dubious free, then two umpires waving contradictory verdicts, one seeming to prevail upon the other by simple force of personality.

A year ended, essentially, by the self-confidence of a stranger.

So you picture Masterson sitting to write to the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) and it's hard not to see a grown man reduced to a child. Word is that he faced an eight-week suspension if he neglected to put pen to paper. How could this be true?

What rule demands it? More pertinently, what court of law would possibly uphold such a rule if it even existed?

The CCCC didn't rebuke Masterson, they belittled him. They delivered a pompous decree rooted in the conviction that players exiting championship activity would be better off just picking up their gear bags and sloping away, bleakly silent. That or restricting their comments to sterile platitude.

And, inexplicably, the media seemed ambivalent to this story. A microphone was put under Masterson's nose within seconds of Wexford's championship ending and his emotions got him into trouble. In future, perhaps we'd like a printed statement from his PR people.

In the meantime, some of Masterson's team-mates have been far more reckless in their expressions of outrage, but they get diplomatic immunity because their plinth of choice is Twitter.

Quirky justice, you will agree.

If I were Masterson, I would have taken the opportunity to make this my Rosa Parks moment. I would have sat on the bus and invited them to forcibly remove me. It seems a conceit of the GAA that managers and players are thought to engage in some kind of graceful ballet every weekend when, in fact, they're all but fighting for their lives.

They put family and friends on hold for a year to pursue a level of athletic excellence that embarrasses many who grow wealthy from professional sport. They devote themselves to a journey utterly unequivocal in every aspect, except in how it is adjudicated.

When Kieran McGeeney stood outside the Kildare dressing-room nine days ago, inviting the media to locate an opinion rather than harvest quotes, he must have felt like Moses addressing the children of Israel.


Did we really need direction on another bad 'square ball' decision that had, for the second year running, assisted in Kildare's elimination? Why just trawl his hurt -- with its inevitable incendiary words -- then hear a few weeks later of how some Eliot Ness came knocking on his door?

McGeeney is a compellingly rational speaker in dressing-room tunnels, a man who doesn't play smart-ass with people, whatever the invitation. But, every day, he watched common sense being rejected like a transplanted organ and he kept warning that patients were going to die.

Then, suddenly, the body in the box was his and, well, he didn't feel much in the mood for singing.

I suspect the root of the trouble is that Gaelic football and hurling are moving infinitely faster than the people who administrate. If Pat McEnaney could tell us of his horror at glimpsing the illegitimacy of Benny Coulter's goal on the big screen last season, how come nothing have changed?

We can blame Syl Doyle or David Coldrick for bad calls against Graham Geraghty and Tomas O'Connor this summer or we can blame their assistants. We can argue, with some legitimacy, that there is a greater need for big-day umpires to be experienced inter-county referees than there is for that qualification to apply to linesmen. We can fuss endlessly about Hawk-Eye and its likely cost of half a million euro.

But simple access to a TV camera would solve virtually every 'square-ball' puzzle and offer a solution to the vast bulk of umpiring confusion.

True, it wouldn't have kept Masterson in the championship. Ian Ryan's kick was so high, you'd have needed the Hubble Telescope just to locate it, let alone decide if the ball had flown over the crossbar.

But maybe Masterson would have been less inclined towards outrage if, at least, he didn't sense his year's work slip down the plughole on the end of an exchange borrowed from a Benny Hill show.

He shouldn't have said what he said about the referee but, God help us, plenty of people probably shouldn't have said what they said about him when he made a mistake in the Leinster final. Feelings get hurt in the big, bad world. You take it and move on.

Remember, Peter Fitzpatrick referred to Martin Sludden as "Dick Turpin without a mask" after last year's Leinster final fiasco. Yet, did anyone do more to protect Sludden when the mob came spilling in? Maybe the CCCC should have written to him too.

Irish Independent

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