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Cooney gives backing to female referees taking centre stage

The day may not be far away when a female umpire, linesman or even referee takes charge of a major GAA championship game.

After the controversy that engulfed Sky Sports duo Richard Keys and Andy Gray last week, the GAA's referees administrator Pat Doherty revealed that female umpires have already been on duty at Christy Ring Cup hurling games and have also been involved at senior club level in some counties.

Doherty and GAA president Christy Cooney both agreed that a female official at senior league or championship matches can't be far away. "We have female referees in counties refereeing matches. It could come," said Doherty.

"There are some matches at club level and we'll see how they progress. If they're well equipped and they want to do it and they meet the standards that we require, there's no reason why they can't."

Doherty reckons at least two inter-county referees have female umpires as part of their team.

Cooney has seen a proliferation of female referees making the leap from ladies football to the male equivalent.

"I actually met a Cavan girl on Saturday night up in Donegal. She's refereeing in ladies football and men's football and I know there's a girl in east Cork, as I saw her doing a league match one day in Killeagh. She's refereeing hurling games as well, so there are a number around the country and they are very keen and very good as well," he said.

Some 1,600 referees were recruited across the country in 2010 as part of an aggressive drive to swell numbers, Doherty said.

Referees are ready to clamp down heavily on players, in both hurling and football, taking frees from the wrong positions. As the NFL gets under way this weekend, inter-county team managers have been warned that frees not taken from the right position will be scrutinised with far great rigour.

The start of the leagues normally features a greater enforcement of a particular rule and this time it's the correct placement of frees, '45s' and '65s' which referees will be insisting on.

Managers were informed of the clampdown at the annual pre- league briefing at Croke Park yesterday, which was well attended and featured discussion on the training ban, which now looks certain to be modified, potential rule changes and strong views on the interpretation of the tackle from Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney.

"We had a wide-ranging discussion, a lot of experts on interpretation of referees' judgment calls on tackles and Kieran did raise that as an issue," Doherty said. "The tackle is not the easiest issue to resolve and it would take a lot of time for us to review it, but playing rules aren't going to be touched over the next few years."

The lines of communication to Croke Park will remain open to managers regarding rules and applications in the season ahead.

"They're free to contact our officials, free to talk to them about issues. We're very comfortable to listen to their views on things that are there," Cooney said.

Cooney said that both managers and referees were keen that no further playing rule experiments should take place in the coming years.

Irish Independent