By Kieran Murphy
KILDAVIN-Clonegal v Éire Óg in the quarter-final of the intermediate championship two weeks ago. The game meanders along and coming up to half-time a little niggle develops.
Off the ball, players tangle. An Éire Óg player throws a little punch. The incident is spotted by the linesman. He informs the referee who in turn consults with an umpire and the player is red-carded.
Against 14 players in a tight affair, Kildavin-Clonegal go on and win the game. The strange thing about the incident is there is a fair chance the Kildavin-Clonegal player didn’t even see what happened. It was an innocuous incident. Gaelic football is a physical game. Tempers fray. Why is there no leeway for such a harmless exchange? Should common sense have been applied here?
Without referring to this particular incident, Carlow Referees Chairman David Hickey totally disagrees with such sentiments and says the match officials would be dead right to dismiss any player who throws any kind of a punch.
“There is no such thing as common sense in the rulebook. We are there to apply the rules,” he says.
“Maybe there is common sense on a wet night. Referees use common sense all the time but they are there to apply the rules. End of story.”
Hickey is adamant about this.
“If you strike or attempt to strike, that is a red card. The player knows exactly what he is doing. He may have lost the head for a couple of seconds. It makes no difference. I cannot lose my head for a couple of seconds when I am refereeing.”
Clubs sometimes go through the appeals process to try to get suspensions overturned.
“At the end of the day, trying to defend a player who loses his head for a couple of seconds is rubbish. A player must control his emotions when he is on the field.”
David refereed the Leinster under-21 football final between Dublin and Offaly this year. He is part of a select number of referees in Carlow who have risen up through the ranks at Leinster and All-Ireland level. Paud O’Dwyer’s achievements are well documented while David Hughes, John Hickey, Pat Kehoe and Pat Murphy have also officiated at provincial finals and All-Ireland finals at one level or another.
“To me personally, the clubs in Carlow don’t know how lucky they are to have such good referees. I would stand over that statement.
“To have at least five guys who are at their top of their game in a county with, say, 25-26 clubs in it is something else,” says Hickey.
That doesn’t mean everything is rosy in Carlow. The county board are criticised when games take place without neutral linesmen or without any linesmen.
Marty Barry, who has responsibility for training and recruiting referees, says no stone is left unturned in allocating referees and linesmen to all games. This, according to Barry, is where a number of referees do themselves no favours at all.
“I tell you this. Mike Whelan (fixtures chairman) sends out texts and messages. Sometimes he doesn’t even get a reply. For one match he was on his 14th text or phone call before he got a referee.”
Barry can call on a pool of 26 referees. He says he could do with at least another four trained match officials.
“It is always our fault (the county board), but it isn’t. We could do with another 10 referees training.
“It is a bit like the priests. We need them coming on stream but they are not.”
Yet there is a certain amount of fault on the county board side. They have assessors who attend matches and carry out a written report on the referee. On the face of it, that looks like a good idea. It isn’t really. In rugby, even in the lower grades, referees meet their assessors before the game. Afterwards the assessor and referee discuss the game and referees are allowed to give reasons for their decisions.
This happens in Leinster and Croke Park.
In Carlow the referee doesn’t even know he is being assessed. They get a report about eight days later. Many referees could have worked on at least four more games in the meantime. They can hardly remember everything that happened in the last game, never mind a week earlier.
Assessing is a noble concept and it is good to have such initiatives. The idea needs to be developed.
A good referee has the respect of the players. No-one minds a referee making a mistake (well, not too much!). The match officials are not going to get everything right. What drives players mad is inconsistency. A certain amount of adverse comment and criticism comes with the territory. David Hickey is one of those who is giving back to the game after giving up playing himself. He enjoys what he does and he does it to the best of his ability.
“You have to park those comments. If you were worried about the criticism, you wouldn’t referee,” he says.