Colm Keys: 'Excluding David Gough from All-Ireland finals based on residency would be unfair and unnecessary'
David Gough could well find out this week if he is to be appointed as an All-Ireland football final referee for the first time.
He’s the front-runner, with Conor Lane, unless the referees’ appointments committee have been blown off course in recent days by concerns emanating from Kerry, over Gough’s work as a teacher and residency in Dublin.
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Gough and Kerry have a little history, dating back three years to the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final with Dublin which Kerry lost by two points.
A few incidents that he, and his officials, missed on the day may well have tilted the balance of that second half in Dublin’s favour, a ball that clearly went out over the end line off Kevin McManamon was called for a 45 which Dean Rock converted.
Meanwhile a heavy challenge on Peter Crowley by McManamon was also missed, leading to an insurance score from Diarmuid Connolly at the other end. An opportunity to draw level – from a free that Bryan Sheehan might well have converted – was also taken away.
Gough subsequently explained that he was unsighted for the McManamon challenge as Mick Fitzsimons blocked his view.
But those incidents, and one or two others, were still reviewed through the lens of his Dublin connections which has included an involvement with Cumann na mBunscol games programmes in the capital.
Yet similar scrutiny, then for a semi-final and now for a final, was not placed on David Coldrick – another Meath man who lives and works in Dublin – when he took charge of the Dublin-Kerry All-Ireland final in 2015. It’s the same circumstances but not nearly the same reaction.
Nor was there such scrutiny a few weeks back when Gough took charge of Dublin’s Super 8s tie with Cork in Croke Park, an evening when he awarded Dublin a penalty, but then withdrew it after consulting with his officials.
The GAA have been cautious about giving Gough Dublin games nonetheless. It wasn’t until their final league match against Monaghan in 2018 that he was back on their beat after that 2016 semi-final. They should have put him in much sooner than that.
Like Coldrick, Gough does all his club refereeing in Meath and is involved in his home club Slane, 30 miles north of the capital, as their Irish officer. Yet the perception is that he is firmly embedded in Dublin.
But residency in Dublin shouldn’t be misplaced with links to the GAA in the city. Since 2016 he has changed careers and is working as a development officer in DCU’s St Patrick’s campus where students and employees come from all over the country
Gough has been one of the top referees over the last number of years, regularly winning praise from managers like Mickey Harte, not always one to dish out the plaudits to the men in the middle, and Kevin McStay.
Geography has been a consideration in the past when appointing GAA referees to the biggest games, the need to avoid perception of bias clearly a factor. It wasn’t always that way. As the Anglo-Celt’s Paul Fitzpatrick pointed out last night, Cavan’s former All-Ireland winner Liam Maguire actually took charge of an Ulster final in the 1960s between his native county and Down without an objection from the Mourne men.
Maguire was considered the leading referee of the time and was trusted to do the job impartially. Perception of bias didn’t come into it then. And it shouldn’t now.
If they are deemed good enough then their integrity should be valued and they should be trusted to get on with it and allow their work to be analysed with detachment from those connections.
As Gough has pointed out himself in the past, Wayne Barnes and Nigel Owens have taken charge of European club rugby games involving clubs from their own countries while soccer referees like Howard Webb and Mark Clattenburg have officiated in cities where they live without adverse reaction.
For the record, I’m from the same county as Gough but happen to think that Lane has been the strongest referee in this year’s championship. Still, Gough’s credentials, current form and absence from the roster in the past suggest his time has come.
Only two All-Ireland finals in this decade have been contested without Dublin and Kerry. The way both counties have been stockpiling reserves, it’s hard to imagine any of the next three or four being contested without one or the other.
If residency in Dublin and concerns from individuals in Kerry are taken on board for this and future appointments then Gough could find himself excluded from an All-Ireland final in his peak years which would be unfair and unnecessary.