Sludden keeps elite status
Martin Sludden has retained his position on the GAA's inner circle of top referees -- despite his high-profile blunder in last year's Leinster football final between Meath and Louth.
The Tyrone official has made the list of 18 referees who will be available for championship matches over the course of the next four months.
Referees have been informed over their status in recent weeks and it has emerged that Sludden has not paid the ultimate price for the controversy at the end of last year's Leinster football decider at Croke Park.
Sludden infamously allowed Meath's injury-time winning goal to stand as Louth were denied their first Leinster title in 53 years. TV replays showed that the goal should have been disallowed, as Joe Sheridan had thrown the ball over the line.
The decision caused outrage among Louth supporters, some of whom vented their fury by remonstratng with the official within seconds of the final whistle. Sludden did not subsequently referee another championship match in 2010 and has been brought gently back to action this year with a series of league matches in Division 2 and Division 3.
There was much speculation that Sludden would not feature in the top-tier of referees as a consequence of that mistake, but the appointments committee has opted not to punish him for the Leinster final and his status has been preserved.
The only mild surprise among the list is the omission of Fermanagh's Martin Higgins, who has featured on championship panels in recent years.
Some high-profile referees have had to retire in recent months and will not be featuring on this year's championship panel. Donegal's Jimmy White and Galway's Gearoid O Conamha have both had to sign off as they had reached the age of 50, the upper ceiling for officials for the last two years.
And Pat McEnaney will join them at the end of the season as he's also due to reach the half-century mark in 2011. McEnaney began his last campaign as an inter-county referee in New York at the weekend, when he took charge of the Connacht SFC quarter-final between the home side and Roscommon.
He's one of four Ulster referees included, joining Sludden, Armagh's Joe McQuillan from Cavan and Armagh's Padraig Hughes.
Connacht has the smallest representation with just two, the Duffy brothers from Sligo. Meath are the best represented county with three of the 18 places, as Joey Curley has been promoted to join David Coldrick and Cormac Reilly.
Kerry have also re-established representation with Padraig O'Sullivan also promoted to championship status.
Leinster have almost half of the football referees on the panel, with the three Meath men joined by Laois pair Maurice Deegan and Eddie Kinsella, Syl Doyle from Wexford, Longford's Derek Fahy and Pat Fox from Westmeath.
The hurling referees list is along expected lines, with Barry Kelly back after opting out last season because of family reasons.
Referees will be assisted by umpires in sparkling new apparel from next week with AFL umpire-style shirts being unveiled as the white coats are ditched.
Meanwhile, the GAA will have a clearer picture about the possible future use of technology to assist referees sometime next week. Hawk-Eye technologies, the company which has carried out feasibility studies at two recent matches at Croke Park, are due to report back to the GAA's research committee in the next 10 days.
The company will give a presentation
on their findings on the same night at Croke Park from the recent Dublin v Kilkenny hurling match and the Down v Dublin football match.
No further tests were conducted at any other grounds, but that may happen in the coming months should the green light be given. The main issue is still likely to be cost involved, with the technology potentially required at up to 13-14 venues when the football qualifiers kick in at the end of June.