Sport GAA

Thursday 17 January 2019

Ciaran Whelan: Easiest way to protect referees is to help them do their job

Referee Paddy Neilan is escorted from the field following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 1 match between Meath and Tyrone at Páirc Táilteann in Navan, Co Meath. Photo: Sportsfile
Referee Paddy Neilan is escorted from the field following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 1 match between Meath and Tyrone at Páirc Táilteann in Navan, Co Meath. Photo: Sportsfile

Ciaran Whelan

I HAD to take a concussion test before I wrote this article. I just wanted to make sure I was of sound mind.

You see, last Saturday while watching Tyrone and Meath I found myself edging on the Royal County to victory.

It worried me a small bit. I checked my temperature and had a good wash afterwards just to make sure I cleansed the soul!

Joking aside, as a Dub I want Meath football to rise again. Not too much though mind you! But Dublin need Meath to be back competing at the top table.

Meath versus Dublin was the one of the highlights of my year growing up as a Dublin supporter. Standing on the Hill as a teenager watching legends from both Dublin and Meath going toe-to-toe. Great days.

It was a rivalry based on hatred and war but also respect. I was lucky enough to play in many battles with Meath and back then in Dublin your performances against Meath shaped you as Dublin footballer.

A victory for Meath last week would have been an injection of confidence and momentum that is badly needed in the Royal County.

That’s not to say that the victory was not important to Tyrone. Tyrone though are like a boxer on the ropes after taking a few heavy hits. Their county is divided at the moment and the knockout punch is on the horizon.

Tyrone will not go away though, as they have too much quality coming through their ranks. Meath have competed well with Dublin at minor level in recent years but the profile of the senior team has remained low.

There a load of reasons for their demise over the last ten years or so. They badly needed a foundation to build on and the impact of a victory against Tyrone would have been hugely significant right across the county.

Instead, it equated to catching the last snake in a game of snakes and ladders. For Andy McEntee Meath are back now where they have been for many years. The hurt and anger of the defeat was clearly visible to aall in McEntee’s approach to the referee Paddy game.

Every inter-county manager is under massive pressure in the modern game nowadays. Andy McEntee is proud Meath man and will always wear his heart on his sleeve.

He will not be picking up a generous expenses cheque like many other inter-county managers at the end of the season backlashes that follows in every county after an unsuccessful year.

The finger of blame will most likely be pointed in the direction of the Longford game when the Meath performance was totally substandard.

The do-gooders were out in force this week condemning the scenes after the match last weekend. Let’s be honest, the sight of a referee been protected by Gardaí after a match is not good. But let us also not be hypocritical here.

Many passionate GAA men have crossed the line into the red mist many times due to the performances of referees.

I have lost the plot before with referees as a club manager so I am certainly not in a position to throw stones!

Of course, I regretted the incidents afterwards, as the behaviour was not acceptable, and in time McEntee will cringe at the scenes last weekend as he will know he crossed the line.

Everybody deals with their emotions differently and it can be reflected in their behaviour on the sideline.

Davy Fitzgerald or Andy McEntee are poles apart from the likes of Jim Gavin or Éamon Fitzmaurice in terms of how they control their emotions.

Referees are regularly the key conductors of emotions in the Gaelic games. Supporters, managers and players are so naturally biased in their views that balance very seldom comes into the equation.

So how do we avoid scenes like last weekend? How do we protect our referees, as their protection is paramount to the integrity of our game?

There has been a substantial improvement in the standard of refereeing in recent years. The communication between referees and their linesmen has improved. We have seen many examples of referees taking a step back, engaging with their officials and taking their time around some key decisions in relation to foul play.

Hawkeye has been a fantastic introduction. A simple, straightforward process that calls it black or white. No complaints with the referee, move on. Decision accepted.

We are asking our referees to make calls on big moments of the game in a split second. A wrong call can have huge impact on the game.

Paddy Neilan will know when he looks at the video that he got the last call wrong when Declan McClure clearly fouled James McEntee.

What use is that to him now? It is too late, the damage is done. He also got many other decisions wrong throughout the game last weekend but so do many referees every weekend.

In general, referee decisions will balance themselves out but it is the big calls that charge the emotions of managers and supporters.

Surely the time has come to learn from rugby and introduce a television match official. Give the referees the back-up and support they need.

Let them review penalty calls or incidents of foul play brought to their attention. Yes, it may add a few minutes to each half but surely that is not a problem. Yes, it may need more investment in technology from the GAA but finance cannot be used an excuse.

Yes, not all championship games could afford a television match official but not all games have Hawkeye either.

Unless the GAA act and look proactively at implementing solutions to support referees, post-match incidents like last weekend will not go away. The DNA of the GAA is rooted too deep and there will be no quick fix in controlling the emotions of managers and supporters.

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