Respect for hurling referees constantly undermined
If Sunday Game punditry wasn’t bad enough, the GAA’s disciplinary committees have also got in on the act
Referee James Owens issues Dublin’s Ryan O’Dwyer with a red card after he was given a second yellow. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
It’s just over three-and-a-half years since the GAA rolled out details of the ‘Respect’ initiative, described by then president Christy Cooney as “the most important launch” of his term of office.
It has become familiar in the interim through the slogan: ‘Give Respect, Get Respect’. Intended to cover all sorts of relationships within Gaelic games, between players, spectators, team officials and of course, referees, it’s a positive attempt to cultivate civil behaviour by encouraging and inculcating it from the youngest age groups.
Naturally enough, the GAA being what it is, many have focused on the ‘get respect’ part of the equation at the expense of the part about giving. But given the competitiveness at the heart of the games’ culture and the at times deranged partisanship that surrounds matches that will hardly have caused too much surprise to the authorities.
The furore ignited by Joe Brolly’s denunciation of cynical play in football drove into the open the telling admission on the part of nearly all players who expressed a view that they regarded the rules as optional – as long as they and their teams weren’t too adversely affected by the deliberate breach.
In the friction between top players and those who coach children as well as administrators it was possible to lose sight of an truth at the heart of the controversy – that football through its punditry and internal discourse has become so much more rigorous in its reflections on indiscipline than has hurling.
The disciplinary reforms to be introduced in football next year depended for their existence on a strict demarcation that made it clear they would have nothing to do with hurling; otherwise some of the bigger hurling counties would certainly have shot them down.
Yet hurling is the game in which foul play is more likely to go unpunished. Unlike in football, there are few internal critics of this. Pundits are far more likely to applaud the ignoring of fouls, or in the words of the prevailing euphemism, “letting the game flow”.
There have been three contentious red cards issued by referees in Cork’s last three matches. The first two, for Patrick Horgan and Henry Shefflin, have already been rescinded and there will be agitation to have Ryan O’Dwyer’s expunged.
All three were valid from the referees’ point of view but the Central Hearings Committee have already overruled both James McGrath’s and Barry Kelly’s decisions. There’s no need to retread the path of those red cards but they were comfortably on the spectrum of what a referee is empowered to do in the face of “striking with a hurley with minimal force” and “careless use of the hurley”.
A referee’s report is regarded as overwhelmingly authoritative within the GAA unless video evidence can prove it mistaken – which in neither of the above incidents it did. The burden of proving such decisions as incorrect shouldn’t be as frivolously discharged as happened here.