Seán Moran: another weekend and the same problems crop up

Yet again the big talking points centre on the conundrums of hurling and football

Just when you thought it was safe: a recent national referees review meeting concluded that 2015 had to date been very encouraging with few if any major controversies erupting into the summer evenings.

It’s likely that intercounty referees are the least complacent people on Earth but any tendency towards even thinking life wasn’t that bad would have been shattered by the arrival at the weekend of a party-sized box of bother.

A number of these incidents have to be included in the file marked “Matter of opinion” but others are chronic problems for football and hurling, problems that given their timelessness may well come without a solution.

In the first category are the alleged phantom goal of Mullingar when a Paul Browne shot ran through the net or went wide and the much disputed penalty in Killarney when Mark Collins was judged to have tumbled James O'Donoghue.



The worst – it is claimed that different camera angles show Browne’s score was legitimate – that can be said about the above decisions is that they were mistakes but that’s what you sign up to when you play sports.

It’s obviously not ideal that referees make mistakes but in common with everyone else on a playing field they do.

Administrative structures try to weed out those who are excessively given to error but none is consistently flawless. The referee in Killarney Pádraig Hughes emphatically awarded the penalty before talking to his umpires, presumably about what card to show Collins. He’s the one appointed to make the call and he made it.

It's all very well to pore over video replays and come to a different conclusion but that's not how a referee has to operate. Anyway there wasn't unanimity on television either as co-commentator Martin Carney felt on playback that it was a penalty.

It was also a brave decision. Some referees will privately admit that they are haunted by the spectre of video analysis on Sunday nights, as would anyone who ritually ran the risk of having their mistakes broadcast live on television and forensically criticised.

It would have been far easier for Hughes to have waved play on, as he would hardly have been pursued over a failure to award a penalty in the 52nd minute for an incident that divided opinion.

Belated red card

In the next category is the belated red card of Kingspan Breffni Park: this is a situation where the action taken by match officials, where not wrong, could have been better implemented.

There's no real dispute about what happened. Cavan's Tomás Corr swung at and struck Roscommon's Ultan Harney in a confrontation off the ball, while Cavan were taking a free out. This happened around 36:58 at the end of the first half.

Play went on for about 80 seconds at the far end of the field until referee David Gough brought the half to an end. Before the start of the second half he called over Corr, who had been replaced and red-carded him, which annulled the substitution.

Rule 1.1 (ii) of the GAA’s Rules of Control, sub-headed Powers of the Referee, reads as follows: “To consult with the Umpires and/or Linesmen concerning infringements of the Playing Rules, in particular rough or dangerous play, striking, hitting or kicking. The Referee may apply the appropriate rule following such consultations.”

Gough’s umpires at the end nearer the incident contacted him during the 80 seconds before half-time – the referee can be seen during this period talking into his microphone - but no consultation took place until the interval.

Obviously it would have been more satisfactory had the officials consulted before the break and sent off Corr at that stage, but there was nothing contrary to rule about the referee acting as soon as he received the advice.

Had it happened in the middle of the first half there would have been few complaints had 80 seconds elapsed between infraction and punishment.

These are all examples of rules that are clear-cut but what about the ones that aren’t?

Every week there are question marks over two fundamental infractions in the games: over-carrying and hand-passing. These apply to both football and hurling but the hand-pass is particularly suspect in hurling.

The rule states that the ball may be, “released and struck with a definite striking action of a hand” (1.7 (b), Rules of Hurling). In every match passes that are no more than tosses can be seen and they are virtually never penalised.

Football referees do from time to time regulate the hand-pass. Over-carrying is, however, endemic in both games. The four steps rule is regularly ignored and important scores result, as they did in both Killarney and Croke Park.

An inquiry as to whether this was an issue for referees was met with fatalistic responses from more than one GAA official. Distilled, the view was that it was indeed a problem but not one for which any obvious solutions exist.

Impressionistic basis

The games are now so much about possession and carrying at pace that referees appear to be mesmerised. It was accepted that the rule on steps is now enforced on an “impressionistic basis”; in other words, does it look right?

This is the same criterion that spectators apply and how often do you hear the crowd burst into indignation when this rule is broken?

Sometimes but nowhere near as often as it happens.

GAA director general Páraic Duffy said about the widely flouted amateur status provisions that it was bad for any organisation to maintain rules which it consistently failed to enforce.

This should presumably apply on the field as well but how, without genetically altering the games?