Sinead Kissane: 'Some people confuse being at a game as a free pass to behave like an eejit'
It feels like the pitchforks are being pointed in Maurice Deegan's direction before he even makes a decision today
Imagine being Maurice Deegan today. Imagine being in the dressing-room before you and your linesmen walk onto the pitch to referee the All-Ireland football final replay.
Imagine layering yourself up with a second and third skin because you know you may become a dartboard for discontent due to the decisions you will make on the pitch. What sort of masochistic streak would lead anyone to believe that being a referee is an agreeable way to spend an evening?
It feels like the pitchforks are being pointed in Deegan's direction before he even makes a decision today. This kind of focus on a ref is nothing new, of course, but this week a little perspective went missing with a bit of concern/paranoia arriving in its place.
There's a belief that some former Dublin players have orchestrated a campaign to influence Deegan by highlighting perceptions about Lee Keegan's style of play which has resulted in anger from some Mayo fans. It leaves the sense that there are enough traps set for Deegan today to make Sam Allardyce feel like he got off lightly.
The net result is the pressure has been ramped up even more on Deegan. Every decision he makes will be analysed or just yelled at against a backdrop of whether he's been "got at" or not in order to give form to any paranoia. Has he been influenced? Did he read the papers? Is he on Twitter? Does he know #whatleedid? Does he know who shot JR?
It also fuels the question of why anyone would want to be a referee. Some folk conveniently forget that normal rules about decent behaviour still apply at a GAA game. Meath referee David Gough had the experience of match programmes being hurled at him as he walked down the tunnel after Dublin's win over Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final in August.
I can't imagine something similar being tolerated if a group of people started throwing things at a person walking down the street without provocation, do you? Yet some confuse being at a game as a free pass to behave like an eejit and ignorantly confuse showing passion for your county as an excuse for anti-social behaviour.
This attitude of disrespect towards referees in the GAA is a stinking part of our culture and mindset. In a letter published in the Irish Independent last month, a "committed GAA man" wrote about his experience as an umpire with a teenage referee: "The teenage ref receives abuse at virtually every game - and these are all juvenile games. This onslaught comes mainly from mentors who describe themselves as 'Gaels' and speak with pride about 'our games'. I have witnessed juvenile teams leaving a field - taking a lead from their managers and shouting abuse at the referee. I have spoken to a number of senior referees and they say 'That's normal, just ignore it'. This in itself is shocking".
It is also ugly when criticism of a referee is actually ridiculing a referee. After Deegan refereed the All-Ireland football semi-final between Kerry and Tyrone last summer, RTé analyst Joe Brolly said Deegan "did something to Tyrone today which normally happens between consenting adults". When someone in Brolly's position frames his criticism of a referee in that sort of language then there's nowhere to go. And just like the umpire wrote in his letter above, this from a man who describes himself as a 'Gael'.
Nowhere is the ridiculing of referees more loved than on social media which latches onto mistakes or offences like feeding time at the zoo. We're living in a time when fear about making mistakes and causing offence is heightened because the internet never forgets and nothing escapes it either.
Not every ref gets to be loved like Nigel Owens. Which is why you actually have to admire the fact that amateur referees like Deegan don't allow abuse to make them quit. It's so easy for us on our high horses, yet refs like Deegan at least have the balls to carry on in a role which is utterly thankless.
But we also need referees to be more accountable in public as opposed to just referees' committees behind closed doors. Managers and players are asked in interviews to explain their actions and decisions after games, so why not referees? If a ref is made available to do an interview, then at least we would all have a better appreciation and understanding - no-one has to agree with it - of the decisions they make.
Paying GAA fans are entitled to some accountability because hiding refs away from the public does little to cultivate our idea of them as humans! It is easy to constantly cast the referee as the villain when he's not given a voice to state his case.
So what do we want from Deegan today? Obviously the answer is tied up in contradictions because it is so subjective. We want the game to flow but we want consistency on black cards. We want Keegan and Connolly to be judged fairly but we only want the instigator to be punished. We want Deegan to get more help from his linesmen yet we get annoyed when a linesman gets involved. We want Deegan to ref by the rules but we also want him to use common sense. We want integrity and we demand fairness.
We don't ask for much, do we? The least Deegan and other referees should get in return is some respect.