David Gough strongly supports the use of video referee technology for sendings off, penalties and decisive calls in order to empower under pressure referees
1 Banty’s Bar
Our greatest referee, David Gough, was on an elite referee’s night out in Dublin. Everyone had passed their fitness test earlier that day, so they were all, as he puts it, “on a high.”
David: We were in the Croke Park hotel having pints and the crack. It was getting late and the lads were mad to go into town. It was bedlam at the bar and someone says, ‘Goughie will sort the venue he knows where it is.’ Ciarán Brannigan came over to me and mentioned a well known bar in the city. I said not a problem, made a phone call to make sure we could get in and ordered taxis for all of us. The taxis stop. We all hop out. The lads are all dressed in the check shirts, brown belts and the brown shoes.
David: God no. I was in a trendy grandfather shirt, designer jeans, white Gucci trainers.
Me: A straight man’s shoes could never be as white as yours. (David, wearing gleaming white Boss trainers, laughs.)
David: We all troop in, giddy with excitement and the referees’ jaws hit the floor. Wall to wall gay men. Over moisturised, hair immaculate, tanned, tattoos, Abba blaring out from the speakers, and in the corner, spinning the decks, all 6’4” of her, Panti Bliss. Ciarán Brannigan came over to me and said “Why did you bring us here?” I said, “You told me you wanted to go to Panti’s Bar.” He said, “I said Banty’s Bar.”
Me: Did you stay?
David: Of course we did. It was a great night’s crack. They are still slagging me about it.
It is clear our elite referees are a very close-knit bunch. At one point I say to David I am surprised he was overlooked (again) for this year’s football final. He immediately says, “Let me stop you there, Joe. Seán (Hurson) is a great pal and a great ref. I was delighted when he got the final. Getting your first All-Ireland is the greatest day in any referee’s life and Seán richly deserved it.”
Me: You must have been disappointed?
David: It was Seán’s day, and I was thrilled for him.
Me: You have been overlooked for the final three years in a row.
David: The standard of refereeing has never been higher.
Me: I agree with that. But you must have been disappointed?
David: Not my calls. All I can say is we have a terrific group of top class referees.
Me: You sound like a politician.
David: No comment.
Me: Your face is disagreeing with your words.
David: (Laughing) Stop it.
I say I’ll wait til he has more drink taken and come back to the subject!
He strongly supports my four proposed rule changes:
(1) Kickout must be beyond the 45 metre line. Penalty: 20-metre free in front of goal.
(2) Goalkeeper cannot take a pass from a player on his own team. Penalty: 20-metre free in front of goal.
(3) Once the ball has crossed the halfway line, it cannot be played back over it. Penalty: 20-metre free in front of goal.
(4) Zonal defending is not permitted inside the 40 metre exclusion zone. Penalty: 20-metre free in front of goal.
They are, he says, “easy to police” and “uncomplicated”. He thinks the goalkeeper is being penalised by Rule 2, but says it is necessary to prevent teams playing keep ball and slowing the game by working the ball back to the ’keeper. The key, he believes, to releasing the game, is banning the sweeper.
“We can spot the sweeper a mile away. If we can give a 20-metre free every time we see a sweeper, it will soon put an end to it. Even at club level referees will have no trouble spotting it. We all know they are spoiling the game. It will force teams to man mark again.”
He has another bugbear.
David: The rules have become unnecessarily complicated. There are 45-50 personal fouls with different punishments. You have to be able to forensically analyse what’s happening in a split second, define the foul, then apply the correct sanction.
Me: On any objective view, it is an impossible job.
David: It is.
Me: What is your solution?
David: There should only be four fouls and four sanctions:
(1) For a tackle that is not proper: a free.
(2) For any type of rough play: a yellow card.
(3) For any type of cynical play: a black card.
(4) For any type of dangerous play: a red card.
Me: How would you define cynical play?
David: A foul on a player that is cynical, one that is designed to slow down the game or prevent a scoring opportunity. In basketball it is called ‘a give foul’.
Me: I love it.
David: The referees talk about this all the time. if we had an elite referee on the Rules committee it would make a massive difference.
I am amazed at this revelation.
David strongly supports the video referee for sendings off, penalties and decisive moments (for example a disputed goal), making the point that the game is so fluid and spread out that it is often difficult to see an incident. My four rules involve — at club championship and inter-county level — the sideline referees (both elite referees) taking one half of the field each. The issue of whether the ball has gone over the sideline would instead be left to two volunteer officials (like our current umpires).
David: Agree completely. It’s a no-brainer. At the moment, the sideline officials are following the play, running along beside it as it moves up and down the field, so we miss a lot of what is going on behind us.
Me: Also, the ref in each half would make it even easier to spot the sweeper.
David: It would.
Me: There, we have solved all of the game’s problems in half an hour.
2 The word of God
Somehow, the conversation turns to God. I am telling a yarn about Peter Canavan when we played together for Ulster when David interrupts.
David: He didn’t pick the ball off the ground in the 1995 final.
Me: I don’t think so either. Peter was an expert of his craft. A master of precision. It would have been beneath him.
David: I don’t know about that, but he didn’t pick it off the ground.
Me: You wouldn’t have given that free out?
David: Definitely not. It was a valid point. In any game, you have to be 100 per cent certain a foul has been committed and that simply was not possible in that incident. It was not picked off the ground. The point should have stood.
Me: All I can say is I’m glad you weren’t refereeing that day.
David laughs. That Dublin group was psychologically frail. They had been beaten over four games by Meath in 1991. By Donegal in the 1992 final. By us in the 1993 semi-final. By Down in the 1994 final. The force was with Tyrone in the closing minutes. That point that God set up would have been the Tyrone equaliser and they would most likely have gone on to win it.
3 Anyone for tennis?
He is the 10 in a row Stackallen tennis club champion. He plays at Open level internationally, meaning he is the equivalent of a scratch amateur golfer. He has played in international tournaments at the Olympic Stadium in Munich, in Nuremberg, Holland and France. He is also a fluent Irish speaker and Raidió na Gaeltachta’s resident Wimbledon expert.
Me: There is not a pick on you.
David: I am intensely competitive. I hate losing. Tennis is my outlet for that.
Me: And the football?
David: God no. On the football field I don’t get to be competitive. I must be the epitome of calm.
Me: You are an immensely courageous referee.
David: What do you mean?
Me: You are quite happy to overturn a decision if you believe you have made a mistake.
David: I am.
I remind him of the time he sent off Tyrone’s Ronan McNamee for ‘striking’ a Cavan player in the 2021 Ulster championship quarter-final.
David: One of my umpires reported him for striking, so I red-carded him. When I saw the video that evening, I realised immediately I had made a mistake.
Me: What did you do?
David: I rang Bernard Smith (National Referees’ Co-ordinator at Croke Park) and told him I had made a mistake and should not have sent the player off.
Me: Fair play to you.
David: Then I got Ronan’s number and rang him to apologise. It was the least I could do.
On foot of David’s intervention, Ronan was exonerated. He played in the Ulster semi-final against Donegal a fortnight later, before going on to win his first Celtic cross.
In round one of the Not So Super Eights in 2019, David awarded a penalty to Dublin against Cork. His umpires asked to speak to him. He consulted with them and overturned his own decision.
Me: What did they tell you?
David: That I had made a mistake, that the Dublin player had simply fallen over. I had the final call, but they were both adamant.
Me: You must trust them?
David: Well, one was my brother Stephen and the other my uncle Tony.
Me: Is nepotism your only criteria for your umpires?
4 All I can do is laugh
Me: No one else would have given that penalty against Dublin in the 2019 drawn final with Kerry.
David: It was a clear penalty. Jonny (Cooper) physically moved David Clifford away from the ball while it was in the air.
Me: When I looked at it again, I realised you were right, but at the time it just looked like jostling you would see from a corner kick in soccer.
David: It was a penalty.
Me: It was an unbelievably ballsy decision.
Me: Because it was such an unorthodox, subtle foul.
Me: Where does your confidence come from?
David: I stand on my values and morals. I hate bullshit. I think it is because of my experience growing up as a gay person pretending to be straight, to fit in and the unfairness of that.
Me: Go on.
David: I think because of that life experience I’m uniquely placed to make honest decisions on the field. I don’t care about the consequences or what anyone thinks of me. I never ask myself ‘How is this going to look for me?’ I make the decision because I believe it to be true.
Me: I hope you get the final next year.
David: No comment.