THE barrage of stinging criticism levelled by Wexford at referee Derek Fahy and his umpires in the wake of the awarding of a controversial winning point to Limerick in last Saturday's All-Ireland football qualifier may lead to sanctions by the GAA.
The Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC), which deals with the day-to-day administration of games, has largely ignored critical post-match comments over recent years, on the basis that they didn't want to be accused of applying a gagging order.
Under match regulations, they have the power to invoke the rule on "misconduct considered to have discredited the association" to deal with criticism of officials if it's deemed to have been too severe.
The punishment for violations of this rule range from an eight-week ban to, in exceptional circumstances, expulsion from the GAA. However, the latter would only apply for a particularly serious offence far beyond criticising officials.
There is particular disquiet in official circles over the criticisms from Wexford of referee Fahy and his umpires. The officials drew Wexford's wrath for awarding what turned out to be the winning point against Limerick after the umpires disagreed on whether the ball was inside or outside the post deep in stoppage-time.
The Wexford camp were outraged by the decision, with goalkeeper Anthony Masterson describing it immediately after the game as an "absolute disgrace".
Wexford continued to express their anger this week. Centre-forward Ciaran Lyng was especially scathing, stating via Twitter that "Derek Fahy gave the most disgraceful refereeing performance I've ever seen, culminating in the final 'free'."
The CCCC are growing increasingly concerned over personal criticisms of referees and sources have indicated that they may act against Wexford, especially since the attacks have continued several days after the game.
It's the latest twist in a saga which highlights yet again the growing disconnect between officials and players/managers as every decision is scrutinised in detail like never before.
Former referee Paddy Collins (Westmeath), who is generally recognised as one of the best middle-men in Gaelic football history, fears that the rising levels of criticism directed at officials could lead to fewer people becoming involved.
"Who wants to watch the television on a Sunday night or read the papers on Monday morning and see themselves hit by heavy criticism? No referee or umpire wants to be the centre of attention, let alone be accused of all sorts," said Collins.
He refereed four All-Ireland senior finals between 1976 and 1989, a period in which referees came under far less scrutiny because far fewer games were shown on TV.
"Mistakes were always made, but they weren't analysed to the same degree. You can analyse them as often as you like, but no referee will ever get everything right because it's impossible. Umpiring isn't as easy at it looks either," he said.
"I wish some of those who are happy to criticise referees and umpires on TV or in the papers took up the jobs themselves and put something back into the game, rather than attacking others."
He believes that the standard of refereeing is very high at present but, despite that, mistakes will be made.
"The likes of Pat McEnaney is as good as we've ever had. Dave Coldrick, Joe McQuillan and several others are very good too, but with every incident replayed over and over again, even the best are going to be queried," he said.
"It's the nature of the job, but there's a difference between questioning a decision and going completely over the top. The fault-free referee doesn't exist because he can't."
However, Collins suspects that some referees may be over-influenced by what assessment they will get, and he believes this is an area that could be streamlined.
"Some of my best friends are assessors and they do their job as per instruction. Players and managers want a common-sense approach taken to each situation -- in other words a clear difference between a mortal and a venial sin -- but the assessment system tends to go very much by the letter of the law. That's one area which could be tweaked for everyone's benefit."
On the question of introducing Hawk-Eye to adjudicate on scores, Collins remains to be convinced that it would provide the definitive answer to all debatable calls.
"It seems to me that raising the height of the posts would be a more sensible starting point. The higher the posts, the easier it is for umpires to get it right," said Collins.
He has huge sympathy for present-day referees, who are having their performances scrutinised like never before, often in a one-sided manner.
"Referees are putting more work than ever before into what they're doing, between training, seminars and everything else that goes with the job," he said.
"They deserve more consideration than they're getting from those who criticise them. If the job is that easy, why don't the critics who attack referees take it up. We'd have no problems at all then."
WHAT THE RULE STATES
Criticising Match Officials
Any county committee official or team official(s), designated person(s), players (as per the list supplied to the match referee prior to the game) who make derogatory comments in relation to games officials before, during or after a game in interviews shall be dealt with in accordance with Riail 7.2(e) T.O. 2010.
Penalty -- A minimum eight weeks suspension. Debarment and expulsion from the association may also be considered.