Thursday 5 December 2019

Martin Breheny: It's time to double the whistle-blowers for hurling

How can one referee remain close enough to the action at all times on three-acre site?

Referee Barry Kelly consults with an umpire before awarding Tipperary a penalty last Sunday - but do referees need more assistance? Photo: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE
Referee Barry Kelly consults with an umpire before awarding Tipperary a penalty last Sunday - but do referees need more assistance? Photo: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

At some stage in last Sunday's All-Ireland final - quite probably for Kilkenny's second goal - the ball travelled at 110 miles per hour.

The graphic in this paper on Monday showed that the fastest ball speed was for a TJ Reid shot, while John O'Dwyer was the quickest Tipperary hitter, peaking at 104mph. The average overall ball speed was 89mph.

All this high-speed whizzing took place on a three-acre site, populated by 30 players and one law enforcer. Now, in all logic, how could Barry Kelly - or any referee either - be close enough to the action for 70 minutes to give himself the best chance of making correct decisions?

The truth is that he couldn't, so good and bad calls have to be seen against that background. The same goes for all referees in Gaelic games, but most especially in hurling where the ball can travel over one hundred metres in a matter of seconds.

Fitter

O'Dwyer's last-second free from was from 97 metres' range, which he easily reached. Quite probably, he would have got the distance, even from 25 metres further out.

So, with the modern sliotar travelling so far and players fitter than ever before, how can a referee be expected to keep up with play? Surely, it's time to consider using two referees, one in each half of the pitch.

Referees run strict fitness regimes but it's still asking an awful lot of them to stay with the tempo of the game. Similar to players, they tire as the day goes on, which increases the chances of errors being made.

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Referees can locate themselves in a good position for puck-outs, frees and line balls but otherwise they are chasing a game that's played at sprint pace. That leaves them making the vast majority of decisions from well behind the action, which makes it all the harder to get calls right.

With two referees, one of them would be quite close to the play all the time, making it much easier to adjudicate. They could also consult each other on borderline calls.

For instance, what would another referee have said to Kelly if he were asked for an opinion on controversial awarding of the late free to Tipperary after Brian Hogan was adjudged to have fouled as he drove forward? Obviously, one referee (depending on where an incident occurred) would have the final call, but a second opinion might help.

Here's an example of how difficult is it for hurling referees to remain close to the action. Off a puck-out, he positions himself so that he's close to the dropping ball.

It's won by the attacking team and, as they work in towards goal, the referee follows the play.

However, the move breaks down and the ball is flicked back to the goalkeeper, who unleashes a lengthy drive deep into enemy territory. The referee is now frantically galloping towards the new point of action and may well have to make a crucial decision from anything up to 80 metres' range. How can he be sure he's right, especially if the ball-carrier is running in a direct line towards the opposition goal?

One referee is perfectly adequate for soccer and rugby, where the pitch dimensions are much smaller than for Gaelic games. Besides, the offside rule makes it far easier to stay close to the point of action, especially in rugby where many of the exchanges are virtually static.

Opponents of the two-referee idea will argue that it would lead to even greater inconsistencies than currently exits, since referees tend to vary in their interpretation of what constitutes a foul.

Obviously, it would be confusing for players if a game was, in effect, refereed differently in opposite halves, but the answer there is to raise uniformity standards. It shouldn't be that difficult to achieve.

Another issue, arising from the two-referee idea, is that there simple aren't enough officials around to make it workable. Again, that can be addressed by launching a recruitment drive. Even then, it probably would not be possible to have two referees at all games but should be achievable at inter-county level.

And before the argument is put that you can't have different rules for club and inter-county games, well, it already exists, in terms of game duration, not to mention that Hawk-Eye is fitted in Croke Park only.

Check back on a re-run of last Sunday's incredible All-Ireland final and ask yourself this: is it practical to expect one referee to remain close enough to play to make sounds decision in an area that's 114 metres long and 88 metres wide? The answer has to be a resounding no.

 

Faithful gathering for Offaly hurling relaunch

Twenty years ago this week, Offaly was giddily celebrating a famous All-Ireland hurling final win over Limerick, a joy they again experienced four years later when beating Kilkenny.

It seems an awful long time ago and with the shadows continuing to lengthen across the county in recent years, there are serious concerns over the state of hurling in Offaly. To that end, a forum, which is open to the public, will take place in the County Arms Hotel, Birr tonight (8.0), aimed at beginning a recovery of Faithful fortunes.

Diarmuid Healy, the man who coached Offaly to their first All-Ireland title in 1981, will head the initiative, while a committee comprised of former county and clubs players, plus various others, has been put in place to drive the process.

"There is no point looking to the past. What we need to do now is to build for the future and Wednesday's meeting is hopefully the start," said Healy.

Offaly haven't won a Leinster senior title since 1995, while their last provincial U-21 and minor successes were in 2000.

 

No case for the defence as hot-shots blaze scoring trail

Imagine scoring a total of 31 points in an All-Ireland hurling final and still not getting your hands on the MacCarthy Cup.

Kilkenny and Tipperary know what it's like, but they are also experiencing a sense of relief that their title ambitions remain intact. The 1-28 (Tipperary) and 3-22 (Kilkenny) scorelines were the biggest returns not to win the title since the 70-minute finals were introduced in 1975.

Galway's 2-21 (1990), Cork's 3-16 twice (2013), Clare's 0-25 (2013), Tipperary's 0-23 (2009) and Wexford's 4-11 (1976) were the largest scores previously not to win 70- minute finals.

Most of the recent finals have been high-scoring, certainly by comparison with 1999 when 0-13 was enough for Cork to beat Kilkenny (0-12), 1995 and 1996 when 1-13 won finals for Clare and Wexford respectively and 1987 when Galway's 1-12 beat Kilkenny by six points.

Both Kilkenny and Tipperary had beaten the 1-12 mark by the 36th minute last Sunday.

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