Referees committee defends system


Gaelic Games:The GAA have responded swiftly to the criticisms of the referee assessment system made by Kilkenny hurling manager Brian Cody after Sunday's defeat of Offaly in the Leinster semi-final.

Without naming Cody, a statement from Croke Park's Referees Committee defended the system, describing it as one that, " . . . referees are happy with and one they view as both educational and supportive" and stating that in the committee's experience, "referees are disappointed if for any reason they are not assessed".

The statement added that in pursuit of consistent application of rules, "inter-county referees meet regularly. These meetings consist of guest speakers on relevant topics ie fitness, mental preparation etc, discussions on previous games and advice and direction on rules, umpires, linesmen and other match related matters."

Responding to questions about the number of frees Kilkenny had conceded in the first half, Cody was critical of what he characterised as fouls being blown by referees under pressure from their match assessor.

"Some of the matches I see now the defender is not supposed to be there at all," he said. "That honest defending is disallowed, because there's a fella sitting in the stand scrutinising every move the referee makes, and I feel massively sorry for referees.

"They've been torn apart and slaughtered, but the game has to be refereed the way it's played. That's lunacy; let the referee go and referee the match. This has nothing to do with Kilkenny, but I know players are confused by what they can do. So that assessor, I would shoot him."

There was a mixed reaction from referees. Limerick official Pat O'Connor has refereed three All-Ireland finals and was inclined to agree with Cody.

"That somebody's up in the stand is always at the back of your mind. I would go along with what Brian said in that young referees are very aware of it, even if more experienced ones like myself are more used to it.

"A mistimed shoulder charge might end up as a full-frontal challenge, which you might decide is accidental, but the assessor says it's a yellow card even if the referee has the clearer view of what happened. The view is that 'yellow is yellow' and 'red is red', but it's not as clear-cut as that all the time. Referees have to have some discretion."

O'Connor did concede, however, that there was also a positive aspect to the system. "There are good points as well. It's designed to get everyone singing off the same hymn sheet."

Wexford referee Dickie Murphy, a veteran of four All-Ireland finals, disagrees and believes that the assessments are useful.

"The system is there. To be honest it doesn't worry me at this stage. Maybe new referees are more conscious, but then again they've grown up with assessors. If you're out before 82,000 in Croke Park, one fella writing up in the stand isn't the problem.

"There's pressure on everyone these days - managers, players and referees. The assessor is just part of it. A lot of referees like to get the assessment and before the system was introduced in the late 1990s, there were complaints from some that they didn't get assessed. They're there to help at the end of the day."

According to the Croke Park statement the assessors are an important part of the refereeing structure and that there are established lines of communication between the Referees Committee and county managers.

"Referee assessors, who are generally former inter-county referees, also meet and are kept up to date on matters arising at refereeing seminars. The assessor is an unbiased observer from whom the referee can receive advice and if warranted, constructive criticism.

"There is nothing secretive about this system and after most games there is dialogue and discussion between the referee and his assessor. County team managers have met with members of Coiste na Réiteoirí and are aware of their ongoing work.

"They also have a line of communication should they have a complaint concerning any refereeing performance. This whole process is an attempt to improve standards and to assist referees to ensure that the playing rules are applied on a consistent and transparent basis. It is only one of many criteria used in the appointment of referee's for major championship games."

Members of Referees Committee

PJ McGrath (Chairman, Mayo), Fr Séamus Gardiner (Tipperary), Frank Finan (Sligo), Séamus Howlin (Wexford), JJ Landers (Waterford), Brian Armitage (Fermanagh), Pat Casserly (Westmeath), Tom Fitzpatrick (Dublin), Jim Roche (Dublin), John Mc Elroy (Fermanagh), Pierce Freaney (Croke Park, secretary)