Constant focus on officials highlights the 'need for professional referees'
A former member of the GAA Management Committee has called for the introduction of full-time, paid referees.
Marty McEvoy (Kildare) believes that it would not only improve refereeing at the highest level but also lead to better standards across the entire spectrum.
"I'm not talking about paying a group of referees to just officiate at games and do nothing else for the week. I would envisage them being active in a whole range of areas, working through Croke Park and into the provinces.
"We have coaching officers everywhere but how many of them are coached on the application of the rules? If they were, there would be a better appreciation among coaches about the rules and how they are applied.
"And who mentors young referees when they're finding their way? Full-time referees could do that too, which would be very helpful.
"And if we had a full-time, paid refereeing panel, they could visit schools and work with coaches there as well. In effect, we would have an integrated system, led by a panel of professional referees. The benefits would be enormous," said McEvoy.
His proposal is for the appointment of around ten referees (five in either code), which would be done on a merit-based system after a detailed process. Referees would have to apply for the positions rather than being approached.
The new set-up would add another layer of professionals in the GAA but McEvoy does not believe that it would spark complaints from players that an increasing number of GAA people were being paid while they had to remain amateur.
"There are a lot of full-time coaches employed by the provincial councils but you don't hear players complaining. This would be simply a case of putting refereeing on the level it should be, while bringing it closer to Croke Park and the accountability that brings.
"Everyone knows that the GAA cannot afford to pay players but we're talking here about paying only ten referees. In any event, the players would benefit from better standards at all levels as the professional referees would be working across a wide range of areas," he said.
McEvoy, who is currently chairman of the Athy club, insists that it's time to take a new approach to the role of the referee in the GAA.
"What are people talking about on the high stools every Sunday night? How the referee did, or they thought he did - that's what. It's the same on 'The Sunday Game' and Monday's papers always comment too.
"We are lucky to have a lot of very good referees but we could have a lot more.
"And if referees weren't getting as much criticism as they are, we would have more people taking it up, which would improve standards further," said McEvoy.
It would be a very hard sell to convince GAA Congress that the time had come to appoint full-time referees but McEvoy is adamant that the positives far outweigh the negatives.
He also said that some of the referees to whom he had spoken favoured the idea, while accepting that it would not suit everybody.
"That's not an issue really. Being a professional referee wouldn't be for everyone but I'm not proposing that. I don't think it would be very difficult to get five or six in football and hurling who would favour the idea.
"This is about moving things on in a constructive way. At the very least, it's worth a debate to find out what the mood is around the country," he said.