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O'Hara: GAA has to pay its elite refs

GAELIC football's longest serving inter-county player has called for the GAA to consider employing referees.

Sligo midfielder Eamonn O'Hara reckons that poor and inconsistent officiating -- and not payments to managers -- is the biggest crisis currently facing the GAA. And O'Hara, gearing up for his 19th season, says poor officiating at high-profile matches is increasingly leading to violent scenes.

"You can talk about managerial payments and the effect it has on the GAA but ultimately this is a results business and from week to week it's the decisions of referees which have the biggest consequences," he says.

"The GAA should be more worried about inconsistent and poor refereeing than looking to see if a manager is getting paid. At the end of the day, a player appreciates the effort a manager makes in leaving his wife and kids three nights a week and at weekends to come and train an outside county. We all know the effort that goes into it and few players are bothered by what they get in return.

"Our frustration stems more from the fact that you can be pulled for a certain indiscretion six or seven times in February or March but the same thing will go totally unnoticed in June or July. Players don't know what way a decision is going to go from game to game and young lads are being thumped off the ball with nothing done about it."


O'Hara feels that employing an elite group of referees would raise standards.

"A referee has the biggest influence on a game. People talk about his stats and say 'he was great, he gave 27 frees to each team'. But seven of those may have been in front of the posts for one team and seven may have been on the other team's 21-yard line; stats don't always tell the real story. Referees have to be more responsible for what's happening.

"I would employ a group of them in the bid for consistency and uniformity, let them come out and speak about key decisions after games. During the week let them spread the message to other officials emerging below them who are progressing through the ranks. It would be good if they went across the country to schools and colleges educating everyone about proper application of rules.

"Not many players know how a tackle is defined, for instance. Different refs see that area in different ways. It's just one of many grey areas -- I don't even watch that much Gaelic football on TV anymore because I'm so frustrated.

"I hate to say this, but a lot of the incidents and melees -- and they are wrong to the core and dreadful to watch -- stem from supporters or mentors reacting with pure frustration to refereeing decisions because there is little or no consistency within or from game to game."

O'Hara's suggestion to employ match officials comes weeks after the first steps were taken in establishing an unofficial referees' body, the Gaelic Match Officials Association.

O'Hara also argues that the GAA must also limit the amount of club personnel patrolling the sidelines.

"You have to restrict the amount of traffic on sidelines. The sidelines are very well marshalled in Sligo and only the selected few can take their place within, but that's not the case everywhere. People are frustrated with calls, they're in close confinement to an opponent and that's why we're seeing so many violent incidents."

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