Sport GAA

Monday 19 August 2019

Colm Keys: 'Referee abuse still a concern despite national body's zero-tolerance approach'


O’Brien: Long suspension. Photo: Sportsfile
O’Brien: Long suspension. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

You may not have noticed it because their release into the public domain can be hit and miss, but the fifth, sixth and seventh suspensions for abusive or threatening language or minor physical interference with a referee or linesman were signed off on last Monday night.

At least, they are the fifth, sixth and seventh cases that we're aware of.

Carlow manager Turlough O'Brien, his coach Steven Poacher and influential midfielder Brendan Murphy were hit with suspensions totalling 44 weeks for using threatening language after challenging referee James Bermingham in the aftermath of their one-point defeat to Down in the last round of Division 3 in the Allianz National Football League.

A draw would have preserved Carlow's Division 3 status, no mean achievement in their first year up, but the frustration of seeing that slip away brought the referee into the line of fire.

In O'Brien's case, a proposed 16-week ban from the Central Competitions Control Committee was increased by four weeks by a hearings committee.

Without access to case details, that's difficult to explain.

Technically, he can have no hand, act or part in Carlow's championship preparations this summer until well into August. Murphy and Poacher's involvement, after both received 12-week bans, is curtailed until the end of June.

All three have the option of appealing the suspensions that are sure to have a huge impact on Carlow in this year's championship.

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There have been other high-profile suspensions for team management members.

Armagh's Kieran McGeeney served a four-week ban in March, Davy Fitzgerald had a bigger ban reduced to four weeks for an altercation with referee Cathal McAllister at half-time in their league quarter-final with Galway last month.

Earlier in the year, Louth manager Wayne Kierans accepted a 12-week ban for an incident with a linesman while Wicklow selector Leighton Glynn was off the sidelines for four weeks.

As stated earlier, these are the suspensions that are known. The GAA do not always make suspensions or fines public to highlight the work of their disciplinary committees.

But the collective impact of 68 weeks of suspensions over the last two months is striking nonetheless.

Perhaps tolerance of management figures towards officials and decisions they make has reached a new low but national referees committee chairman Willie Barrett feels tolerance of abuse among his officials is much lower than it was, with strong encouragement from his body to report every instance.

"I'd say it's down to the fact that we have given a fairly clear instruction, where anyone is abusing you or threatening you, you should report it," he says.

"We would acknowledge that it (reporting of such incidents) is going on more this year.

"There were cases in the past when it might not have been reported. I certainly don't believe that it all happened so quickly that we have four or five reported suddenly.

"We need to report these incidents. We all have responsibilities, but threatening a referee is not what we're about."

Barrett can understand the frustration vented towards officials sometimes but says managers and players can only go so far.

"I can understand people being annoyed with decisions but there is a limit to what a referee can absorb before reporting it.

"We've been giving that instruction because the only way we can stamp this out is by reporting it. Let the authorities deal with it then."

Barrett also says respect must be a "two-way thing".

"Inevitably things will go wrong. They're not going to get everything right.

"It's not a pleasant thing for people to be watching and to encourage young people to play our games.

"We can't have this happening at national level."

Barrett also fears that abuse of referees is driving more recruits away, citing a survey a few years back which found that 70pc of newly-minted referees, as part of a recruitment drive, had quit because of abuse.

"There is no chance being given to them," he says.

"Like a player starting off, you can't expect everything overnight.

"You have to improve them and train them as you go along.

"But unfortunately, some people do not give the respect that a referee deserves."

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