Of­fi­ci­at­ing has not kept up with the modern game

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Kevin McS­tay

The job of the cham­pi­onship is to pro­duce the two best teams and six days out from the year’s All-Ire­land foot­ball fi­nal it’s fair to say that has hap­pened. Logic would sug­gest by the same to­ken the fi­nal should be in the care of the three best of­fi­cials, re­gard­less of who they are.

That hasn’t hap­pened. There’s no doubt in my mind Conor Lane, who has been ap­pointed, David Coldrick and David Gough, who should be Sun­day’s lines­men, are the three best ref­er­ees but just like in foot­ball, when you go out­side the top there is a stark drop to the next best.

The fi­nal is such a big oc­ca­sion now. In the last five to10 years, the hype sur­round­ing the game and the sheer “size” of an All-Ire­land get big­ger and big­ger while lev­els of coach­ing climb all the time and the con­di­tion­ing of county play­ers is now un­real. But dis­ci­pline and of­fi­ci­at­ing haven’t kept pace. That has cre­ated real frus­tra­tion for many in­volved in the game, in­clud­ing my­self and that’s why I’m serv­ing a 12-week sus­pen­sion for throw­ing the ball at a lines­man at half-time in the Roscom­mon-Done­gal Su­per 8s match.

I was frus­trated with some of the calls – or lack of them – by the ref­eree (Ciarán Brana­gan) and Niall Cullen (lines­man). There were of course other things go­ing on; we weren’t play­ing well or do­ing the things we’d hoped to do and that en­sures the frus­tra­tion builds. I ended up do­ing some­thing I never thought I would do, re­gret­ted it the sec­ond it hap­pened and apol­o­gised to both ref­eree and lines­man at half-time. They had to take the ac­tion they took; I to­tally ac­cept that and didn’t con­test the sus­pen­sion. It was 100 per cent my fault and I also have to ac­cept that my griev­ances were just my opin­ion, which was ob­vi­ously not im­par­tial but I was rea­son­able and cour­te­ous in ev­ery­thing I said.

When the other lines­man, Derek O’Ma­honey, came over to me be­fore the start of the sec­ond half when I was be­ing need­lessly provoca­tive stand­ing on the side­line de­spite hav­ing been told to sit down at half-time he was very rea­soned and diplo­matic, say­ing it would be bet­ter for me to just with­draw vol­un­tar­ily and not force the ref­eree into con­fronting me. I ap­pre­ci­ated his dis­cre­tion and good sense and sat down.

I was sent off just once in my se­nior ca­reer and have never been pre­vi­ously dis­ci­plined as a man­ager. As a player, man­ager and pun­dit I al­ways re­spected the ef­forts of match of­fi­cials and would never ques­tion their bona fides although at times you can ques­tion con­sis­tency and com­pe­tence.

Two ref­er­ees

It is also an is­sue for all in­ter-county man­agers that sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of black cards and red cards are be­ing called – or not – by lines­men. My is­sue with lines­men is that too many of them are en­joy­ing the game and fol­low­ing the ac­tion when they are needed to keep track of what is hap­pen­ing in their sphere, re­gard­less of where the ball might be.

I’m blue in the face ask­ing lines­men to keep an oc­ca­sional eye on what’s hap­pen­ing be­hind the ball. What’s hap­pen­ing now is that play­ers are be­ing ex­pected to sort out them­selves what ref­er­ees miss. There’s a cul­tural ac­cep­tance it should be part of your re­spon­si­bil­ity to sur­vive when the rules aren’t ap­plied and that there’s some­thing in­ad­e­quate about a player who doesn’t do that.

The big­ger pic­ture for me in this is the blan­ket de­fences, which have sprung up in re­cent years, thrive on this lack of ap­pli­ca­tion of rule be­cause the tackle isn’t be­ing prop­erly ref­er­eed and th­ese ul­tra-de­fen­sive sys­tems ul­ti­mately rely on ref­er­ees getting a lot of th­ese calls wrong. It raises the idea of hav­ing two ref­er­ees. I know the view that we’ve enough dif­fi­culty getting one ref­eree to Bel­mul­let, never mind two, but that’s not a se­ri­ous ar­gu­ment be­cause we need to re­source the top games bet­ter and do – for in­stance, Hawk-Eye – and any­thing that fa­cil­i­tates the cor­rec­tion of er­ror and the de­tec­tion of foul play is worth con­sid­er­ing.

Ref­er­ees closer to the ac­tion would ob­serve more of the ac­tion and have a bet­ter chance of en­forc­ing the rules.

There’s also the deep-seated prob­lem of ‘let­ting the game flow’ and the com­par­i­son be­tween foot­ball and hurl­ing and the en­tirely dif­fer­ent ways the games are ref­er­eed, as can be seen from how few frees are awarded in hurl­ing – or more ac­cu­rately, how many fouls go un­pun­ished.

My view is that if the con­sen­sus doesn’t want all the rules en­forced, can we sit down and de­cide which ones to drop be­cause the rule­book falls into dis­re­pute when it is so ca­su­ally en­forced. The duty of all ref­er­ees is to pro­tect play­ers through the ap­pli­ca­tion of the rules.

‘‘ I ended up do­ing some­thing I never thought I would do, re­gret­ted it the sec­ond it hap­pened

Dark arts

That doesn’t hap­pen. Since my day play­ing there has been some progress but not huge. The mad off-the-ball stuff is gone and I think the black card has had a positive im­pact but there is still an em­pha­sis on teams need­ing to be ‘street­wise’ and other eu­phemisms.

I’ve lost count at the num­ber of times that teams, like Roscom­mon, are said to need to be more pro­fi­cient in the “dark arts”, which is crazy; take the rules into your own hands.

Games­man­ship is now rife. The last few min­utes of big games is be­com­ing un­ref­er­ee­able; last year’s All-Ire­land fi­nal saw Dublin play­ers div­ing on their op­po­nents for the fi­nal kick-out, Lee Kee­gan throw­ing his GPS at Dean Rock and it was all treated as part of the game. When you al­low th­ese things, more and more be­comes ac­cept­able. The Ty­rone player run­ning across the eye-line of the Mon­aghan free-taker doesn’t hap­pen by ac­ci­dent and yet in an All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal it wasn’t pun­ished.

Hu­man be­hav­iour is reg­u­lated by the level of sanc­tion ap­plied to mis­be­haviour. In my view that is cur­rently not the case in foot­ball.

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