Sport Hurling

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Red alert as debate rages over small ball discipline

Little evidence of promised crackdown as referees fail to apply full rigours of the law

Dublin’s David Treacy and Tomas Waters of Wexford become entangled during an incident early in their Leinster SHC quarter-final replay
Dublin’s David Treacy and Tomas Waters of Wexford become entangled during an incident early in their Leinster SHC quarter-final replay
Referee Brian Gavin shows Wexford’s Andrew Shore a red card against Dublin
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The inter-county refereeing panels will have their first gathering since the championship commenced almost a month ago and performances are sure to be scrutinised in great detail.

But already the hurling championship has been grist to the mill for Pat McEnaney, the chairman of the national referees' committee, who is determined to remove the reckless and dangerous blows from hurling.

Following the conclusion of last year's hurling championship, McEnaney met with his referees and after analysing their performances they came to the conclusion that up to seven straight red cards were missed that summer. Only two straight reds out of a possible nine were shown throughout the 2012 championship, a situation that McEnaney felt was "unacceptable".

He promised improvement and when Cathal McAllister, the referee on whose watch Kilkenny's Michael Rice sustained such a nasty finger injury in last year's All-Ireland hurling semi-final, was left off this year's inter-county panel, nobody was under any illusions that his failure to deal with that incident had played a part.

McEnaney promised improvement but, on the evidence of what has been an otherwise highly enjoyable hurling championship so far, that improvement has clearly not been forthcoming.

There are estimates that up to three, probably four, red-card offences have already been missed by hurling referees still conscious of the old maxim that hurling is a manly game and that wild blows are often part of the landscape.

Two of those decisions not to issue red cards that have come under scrutiny involved Offaly players in their Leinster quarter-final against Kilkenny last week, while the dangerous use of the hurl by Wexford captain Garrett Sinnott in his second-half challenge on Peter Kelly will also be held up in evidence that hurling referees are still not applying the full rigours of the law.

Already they are halfway to the amount of missed red cards that McEnaney has been so public and definitive about since last year's championship concluded. Some hurling analysts have been cool on the idea of the referees' body, under the chairmanship of McEnaney, 'going after' red-card offences so diligently.

His concern stems from the type of injuries sustained by Kilkenny's TJ Reid (kneecap) and Rice in the concluding stages of last year's championship that left them on the sidelines – until the latter stages of the league in Rice's case and the championship for Reid.

One columnist recently suggested that McEnaney should stick to football while, prior to the championship, Tomas Mulcahy expressed his concern on television about the road that was being taken in relation to the way the game would be officiated.

Michael Duignan's stinging critique on Wexford's approach on 'The Sunday Game' highlighting a series of incidents in their replay with Dublin on Saturday night, has, however, really illuminated the type of offence that McEnaney and his body are keen to eradicate.

By nature, hurling analysts throughout the media are generally more protective of their sport than their Gaelic football counterparts, conscious of the need to preserve the image of a physical game, so Duignan's decision to pull no punches in his indictment of what he felt was an unacceptable level of dangerous play perpetrated by Wexford was a definite shift in that regard.

As well as an early red card to Andrew Shore, Offaly referee Brian Gavin issued eight yellow cards in the course of the match that featured several flashpoints which may attract the interest of the Central Competition Controls Committee in the coming days.

The tone of Duignan's criticism and, in particular, the suggestion that Wexford, by their approach, had reduced Dublin players to fear in pursuit of the ball, didn't sit well with former Wexford hurler Tom Dempsey.

"I think the suggestion from Michael that it was some sort of fear zone was over the top. That part was over-dramatised to my mind.

"Conal Keaney certainly didn't look like a player who feared anything when he made some of those brilliant catches. I didn't see any evidence of any Dublin players holding back," said Dempsey.

Dublin manager Anthony Daly did admit afterwards that his players had not been "intimidated" by Wexford's approach.

"I didn't think there was enough balance about that side of the analysis. I think it came across as one-sided when in fact there were small incidents that happened that both sides have to take blame for," said Demspey who, critically, did not dispute that the colour of the card was justified in that instance.

"I would certainly hope that the tone of the analysis on Sunday night would not lead to a harsh punishment for Andrew Shore. A couple of things happened before and after that incident, including the melee that followed that could have led to further red cards. I wouldn't condone dangerous play and any incident I would certainly criticise if it had real intent in it. But I don't think all the blame should be laid here as it was."

Demspey believes the analysis of both games between Dublin and Wexford have been too negative from a Wexford point of view.

"Wexford were happy with the performance against Dublin the first day. Obviously, the red card had an impact on Saturday night."

Irish Independent

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