Sunday 22 September 2019

Martin Breheny: 'TV re-runs leave referees totally exposed, fuelling a culture of dwindling respect'

Referee Conor Lane. Photo: Sportsfile
Referee Conor Lane. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

ABOUT the only certainty surrounding the All-Ireland final replay – if it follows the expected route and delivers a close contest – is that the performance of referee Conor Lane will be criticised.

Important borderline calls will be targeted because, by their nature, they are open to interpretation.

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And since the Corkman will be making his decisions in real time, he will be shown to be wrong in some instances by those with recourse to endless re-runs.

Wrong, that is, in the strictest technical sense of a particular rule. But since he will have made his decision in a split-second in the manic environment of an All-Ireland final, how can he possibly get everything right?

He can't, of course, but no leeway will be allowed. TV re-runs leave referees totally exposed, fuelling a culture of dwindling respect. It must be acknowledged that, in the main, referees get the vast majority of calls right in all sports, but it's the minority which attracts most attention.

By comparison with other sports, football and hurling have a specific problem, arising from the size of the playing area, which extends to nearly three acres. Expecting one referee, especially in hurling where the ball moves so quickly, to be close enough to the play to make correct calls for anything up to 78 minutes is ridiculous. 

It cannot be done. Yet, despite that, there's no appetite among officialdom to even discuss the introduction of a second referee.

Nor are referees suggesting it, possibly out of fear that to do so would suggest they aren't up to the job. If that's the case, they are doing the games a great disservice. Perhaps there are valid reasons why two referees wouldn't work well, although it's difficult to see why. But, at least let the debate happen, preferably after trialling two-ref games. Even if referees aren't inclined to propose doubling their numbers, it would be helpful if they identified which rules are most difficult to apply.

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And, no we don't want it happening behind closed doors in front of a committee. Let the public and the players know, so that a wider debate can take place.

If the rules are so difficult to implement, then they need to be revisited and redrafted. And, if they're not, why so many different interpretations?

Another area where referees are not doing themselves any favours is in the misapplication of very straight-forward rules.

Goalkeepers aren't allowed to leave their lines before penalties are taken, yet it goes unpunished all the time, the latest example coming in the drawn football final when Stephen Cluxton moved forward before Paul Geaney kicked the ball.

Taking too many steps is ignored in both codes while the disregard for illegal handpassing in hurling is a serious blight on the game.

Who is responsible? Referees, of course, but they seem so obsessed with keeping play moving that they can't bring themselves to apply a straightforward rule.

Having said all that, referees deserve sympathy when the criticisms levelled at them are based on nothing more than the losing side's disappointment.

How often have we heard managers and/or players claiming that they don't like criticising referees, only to go ahead and do it anyway? 

With a few exceptions, David Gough handled the Dublin-Kerry game well and now responsibility had been handed on to Lane, who is refereeing the final for a second successive year. The last time that happened was in 1970-'71 when Paul Kelly (Dublin) took charge of the Kerry v Meath and Galway v Offaly finals.

It will be Lane's third final (he also handled the drawn Dublin-Mayo final in 2016), so he certainly has enough experience to cope with the many demands which are coming his way.

He did a good job in the Dublin-Mayo semi-final, but then it was a relatively easy game to referee.

Saturday's showdown could be very different. Markers have been put down in individual duals, so the renewed battle for control will be beyond high-intensity, especially in the early stages.

Lane and his team will need to be at their most vigilant.

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