Monday 18 December 2017

Recruitment process the starting point for change

The poor standard of refereeing at county level has to be tackled, says Dermot Crowe

A few years ago a disciplinary rules task force introduced clearly defined fouls and infringement categories with attendant penalties up the scale in an attempt to rid Gaelic games of repeated cynical, and often dangerous, fouling.

The aim was to clean up the games, achieve a consistent application of rules and, above all, to encourage and protect the skilful player. The reform package went on trial and during those trials some referees seemed to decide on their own interpretation, adopting an a la carte approach.

Some call this common sense and mourn the lack of common sense at play when referees take the whistle in key championship games. Common sense is a nebulous concept, however, when it comes to implementing rules fairly and consistently. How do you define it? If it means good refereeing, we all welcome that. But if it means letting the first 20 minutes 'flow' -- often a euphemism for disregarding the rules -- how sensible is that?

We are back then to the troublesome conflict between applying the law and not wanting to ruin the game. If Tadhg Kennelly had been sent off in the first minute of the 2009 All-Ireland final, would it have been the referee's fault or the player's own responsibility? Why are we even asking this question? There is a large constituency out there who feel that sending off Kennelly would have spoiled the game. How does a referee try to deal with this kind of double-think? The trouble is that many referees are of the same mentality, as they come from the same culture.

The disciplinary package looked unworkable because referees either did not do the job they were asked to do or simply weren't able to. This was down to poor or selective refereeing and is a comment on the standard available. Many of the referees on the inter-county panel right now are not at all convincing, being either too lenient on rough play and fouling -- to 'let the game flow' and be seen as a 'good' referee -- or altogether too meddlesome.

On the latter point, there is a good argument to be made for introducing a system whereby a referee can communicate a perhaps controversial decision to a team through the team captain, and the captain can seek clarification in the same way from the ref. This would not undermine the referee's authority and enhance relations on the field between players and match officials. At all levels you find needlessly arrogant and detached referees liking the authority a little too much.

The system of recruitment surely needs to be looked at and refereeing in general needs to come out of its mason-like cell and open up a better line of communication with the world in which it lives. Greater transparency on the field and off it, particularly after high-profile and disputed incidents, would serve all sides well. Instead there is a closing of ranks and the GAA president is wheeled out to make a predictable defence of the system. The message we are getting is that there is nothing wrong with GAA refereeing. Anyone going to matches knows this is nonsense.

Much is talked of the infamous assessor, in the stands, taking notes and rating on a percentage basis. Anyone subject to inspection, or over-inspection, can attest to the negative influence this may cause in not allowing the subject to relax and do his job free of distraction and self-absorption. In

the recent Meath v Kildare match the referee tried to do too much and ended up losing control.

Recruitment occurs from the bottom up, much like as is the case with board officials. It does not always mean, of course, that the cream will rise to the top. Refereeing does not get a good press and it is understandable if a potential candidate would be scared off by the regular bouts of controversy. The only way to help change that is to improve the standards on the field. Match assessors and recruitment clearly are not having the desired effect.

Players and supporters often show an ignorance of the rules, or feign it at least, and while we pride ourselves on being an agreeable race when attending matches, the hatred and physical assaults on referees would tend to suggest otherwise. The ladies match in Tyrone was the most shocking recent example. Referees would seem to be seen as fair game. Referees have a responsibility to do their job without fear or favour but they are entitled to feel they can do this without fear, too.

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