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Bad refs dragging good league down

On Friday of last week with eight minutes left in the League of Ireland match between his team and Shamrock Rovers, Andy Mulligan of Bohemians went to clear the ball in his own penalty area. He miskicked and the ball flew up and hit him in the face. Mulligan rubbed his face with a mixture of embarrassment and pain. And referee Neil Doyle awarded a penalty. Check it on the 'net if you haven't seen the incident. It's a hoot, as long as you don't care about the League of Ireland.

It was ludicrous, it was laughable and it was sadly typical of refereeing in the League, an alternative universe of officiating.

Leading players were quick to pour scorn on Doyle. "Shocking decision from Neil Doyle killed Bohs . . . " tweeted Keith Ward of Dundalk, "I'll say it again . . . wow Neil Doyle wow," quipped Evan McMillan of Sligo Rovers, while his team-mate Alan Keane wondered, "How the fuck does he get all these TV games . . . "

It's a good question but perhaps the answer is that Neil Doyle, in my opinion having seen him in action, is no worse than most of his colleagues. After all, a couple of weeks earlier we had a similar moment of madness in Drogheda.

The home side were defending a 1-1 draw in injury time against St Pat's when Pat's striker Christy Fagan handled the ball in their penalty area. Tom Connolly not only didn't penalise Fagan, he gave him a penalty, perhaps being under the impression that the Pat's player was playing for Drogheda. Killian Brennan converted to give Pat's a 2-1 victory.

Sligo Rovers have also been at the receiving end of questionable decisions this season, suffering three sendings-off in successive weeks. Don't take my word on that, I'm biased. The Monday Night Soccer panel thought the same thing.

It's always been like this and it drives fans, players and managers nuts. Referees make mistakes. They're only human. But refereeing standards in the League of Ireland are deplorable compared to those in the country's other main sports.

But I've followed and loved this League for 40 years, season in season out, and I think we deserve better. Because there's no point in striving to improve facilities and playing surfaces while persisting with refereeing which consistently falls short of what should be expected.

Irish Independent