Friday 15 December 2017

Jokers wild in crazy card games

Fussy referees and officials are turning Gaelic football into a non-contact sport, writes Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

A few comments I made about referees last Sunday has created a bit of heat. Mick Curley, the boss of the referees' union, so to speak, came galloping to their aid. It would be bad form if he did anything else but there must be times when he throws up his hands in frustration because Mick knew how to referee a game and certainly would not be handing out yellow cards like confetti in the same way that referees are doing at the moment.

Referees should always have a right of reply, or someone to articulate a response to criticism by myself or others who have access to the media. Without that there is no proper debate.

Last weekend, by my count, there were over 90 yellow cards in eight qualifier and four provincial semi-finals, with only one game having fewer than five. Four double yellows arose, meaning four red cards. I was at the games where three of the reds were issued -- none of them in my view were warranted, mainly because there should have been no first yellow.

To make matters worse, there were two obvious punches thrown, one in the Galway-Mayo game and one in the Donegal-Tyrone match, which did not get red cards. Has football descended into such a lawless game that this pernickety approach to yellow cards is needed to avert all-out war? Of course the exact opposite is true. Games are more sporting and as a result easier than ever to referee.

What we are seeing now is a completely over-the-top approach to giving out yellow cards. In saying this, I am looking at refereeing in general instead of concentrating on specific incidents where a ref can make a mistake, just like players do all the time. A good referee should know the difference between a genuine effort to play the ball and an obvious foul, like tugging a jersey. Without players being willing to go flat out for a ball and risking a free in the process, we have no game and I don't care how many times it happens.

This thing of a referee showing a card and saying to a player it is because it is your second or third foul is absolute rubbish. If a player, especially a back, has to weigh up the risk factor of a yellow card before he goes full belt then he might as well be at home.

It is becoming increasingly clear that most referees have not played at a level where they can see what the intentions of players are. This is a feel for the game and is not covered in any of the manuals. Naturally, the referees' response to this is that you can only adjudicate on the rules, but whoever is issuing these formal decrees to refs should pull back quickly. Some feel that a continuation will ruin the game; in my view it is already destroyed by this approach.

Last Wednesday night, I witnessed more of this in the Leinster minor semi-final between Meath and Louth. It was a most sporting game which needed few frees and certainly no yellow cards. Yet several yellow cards were shown and of course the inevitable second yellow and red to a Meath player for a most innocuous challenge. After that, when Louth were a man up they could not buy a free. Meath were the better team and won, while Louth had the best player on the pitch, Ciarán Byrne of the St Mochta's club who was excellent throughout. After the match the Louth supporters in a very decent crowd were totally frustrated with the refereeing. It was easy to understand why and for these sort of underage games the referees should leave their cards behind them as I have yet to see a dirty match at this level.

The same is almost always true at senior too so fewer cards would lead to far more entertainment. At this stage team managements will debate quickly whether or not to take off someone on a yellow card. In many cases bad refereeing is now forcing the hand of management to make decisions they don't want to make. After last Sunday there was criticism of Pat Gilroy for not taking off Eoghan O'Gara after he was yellow-carded. O'Gara could hardly be classed as a bull in a china shop and the reason why he is on is to give a more physical edge to the Dublin forward line. If running into a few defenders in a harmless way is going to get him sent off then the problem is with the way the game has changed into a non-contact sport. That needs urgent addressing.

This disease has also spread to club football -- over-zealous referees handing out yellow cards as if there was going to be utter mayhem. The amount of time this whole scene takes up is driving people to distraction and seriously annoying players.

The issuing of a card takes at least 30 seconds, so it means at least 45 minutes was taken off senior inter-county games last weekend. Of course some were quite justified but at least half could be avoided by a smart referee having a quiet word with a player and telling him he was going to get in trouble if he did not catch on to himself.

The frustration of players is magnified coming close to the end of a match when they are behind and referees call a team back after taking a quick free in order to issue a yellow card. Let them play on and book the player when the ball goes dead, if the booking is warranted.

And another thing: when a player goes down with a minor injury the play should go on with the team medic allowed in to sort him out. Players would get up much quicker if they thought the play would not be stopped. If the ball came near an injured player on the ground, the referee could always stop play at that point.

Hopefully from now on we will see referees seriously reducing the number of yellow cards and also the number of stoppages for minor injuries. I feel better already . . .

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