All-Ireland referee Lane says GAA should take a leaf from rugby’s book
Experienced Cork official stresses the need for more respect from players – and spectators
Conor Lane during the All-Ireland final. “It’s not nice to see when you see lads jumping over wires and supporters getting involved. I’d be a big Munster rugby man, and you don’t see it happening in rugby.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Agreement on referee decisions is one thing, agreement between them is another, and for Cork football referee Conor Lane there is at least a willingness to embrace the proposed playing rule changes announced earlier this month.
All five rules will be trialled for the first time in selected third-level league matches at the Trinity Sportsground in Santry on Thursday evening, including the restriction to three consecutive hand pass. Lane is not in entire agreement with them all, yet is open to experimentation nonetheless.
“We’ll just have to embrace it,” says Lane, speaking in Croke Park at the announcement of the new Referee Development Plan, a key part of the GAA’s own Strategic Plan 2018-2021, launched earlier this year.
“Like every year, there is always something new for us. It’ll be a big challenge no doubt. We want to go out to get every decision right, which is a downfall we have, but we look forward to them and whatever comes in.”
Lane, fresh from refereeing last month’s All-Ireland football final between Dublin and Tyrone, also refereed the 2016 football final between Dublin and Mayo. He also has International Rules experience where the hand-pass is already limited.
“It was my first time (counting hand-passes) but it gets into your brain fairly fast. Six in International Rules and three here, you’d get used to it. Definitely that side of the game is fast in Australia. Is that the angle they want to be taking? Which is a positive.”
The Referee Development Plan identified the recruiting and retaining of more referees as the number one priority and challenge. It has four other aims: to advance the skills and abilities of referees; to optimise advising and mentoring; to strengthen supports for referee fitness and general welfare; to streamline governance structures and referee administration, including a technology review such as the television match official (TMO).
Lane is similarly open to whatever changes may come.
But he also spoke of the need for a change in attitude among players and spectators, the latest incidents of verbal and physical abuse towards referees, seen in a number of club games in Ulster, highlighting the issue.
“It’s not nice to see when you see lads jumping over wires and supporters getting involved. I’d be a big Munster rugby man, and you don’t see it happening in rugby. They’re big about respect and things like that. You go to a juvenile rugby match and it’s ‘yes or no’ to a referee.
“You go to a juvenile game in the GAA and jesus, the parents... It’s just a different culture [in rugby]. It starts in schools and it builds its way up to secondary schools. You can’t back answer your coach, you can’t back answer your team-mate, you can’t back answer your referee.
“I think it will change. I think it’s started around Cork. I was talking to a few parents and they went to Páirc Uí Chaoimh lately or Bishopstown and they had to sit in the stand and they weren’t supposed to be vocal towards the sideline.
“But I think if you can get it into the schools, you have to hit the juveniles. But I think it’s happening. And hopefully that generation will come up. We’d like to have the rugby side of it. And that’s what I think we should strive for.”
Wexford hurling referee James Owens – in charge of this year’s All-Ireland final between Limerick and Galway – agreed that continued abuse, verbal or otherwise, is one of the main reasons behind the struggle to recruit new referees.
“It’s been highlighted pretty recently in the media, the abuse referees get, up in the North the football games in particular. It’s not a good advertisement for trying to recruit referees. You get young lads there, you are trying to encourage them to implement rules and there are incidents like that happening, so it wouldn’t be easy, no.”
Owens also spoke about the fear of some abuse towards his family, particularly his own father, after he’d sent off Waterford’s Conor Gleeson towards the end of the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final against Cork (Gleeson missed the final as a result).
“Obviously more decisions than that were made, but that did have an effect on the family or whatever. I was very worried for my father at the time because the year before he had a triple bypass. What I tried to say to him on the Sunday night, or the Monday, I just had to tell him that you need to block yourselves from social media, not to buy any papers or anything like that. But sure you tell them to do that and they go and do the opposite.
“Probably if you look over all the social media websites it’s the same guys that are passing the same comments. Again, I don’t get involved in it but obviously I would be aware of . . . they made me quite aware of some of the stuff that was going on.”