herald

Sunday 20 August 2017

Would you be a referee and risk 'criminal' attack?

Mayo's Lee Keegan is red-carded at Croke Park this year
Mayo's Lee Keegan is red-carded at Croke Park this year

WE'VE said it before and we'll say it again ... history is written by the winners. But enough - for now - of Brian Cody's unedifying comments about referee Barry Kelly, and his apparent desire to settle old scores from the platform of yet another All-Ireland victory.

Instead, let's start by focusing on the number of what are deemed suitably qualified referees to officiate at the elite hurling level. Then ask yourself where will the next batch come from, and who would even crave such a poisoned chalice?

Over the past four summers, incorporating All-Ireland quarter-finals, semi-finals, finals and replays, there have been 23 SHC matches played at the business end of the championship.

Just seven referees have been appointed to one or more of these games: Brian Gavin (seven), Barry Kelly (six), James McGrath, Cathal McAllister (three apiece), James Owens (two), Johnny Ryan and Michael Wadding (one each). In other words, Gavin and Kelly have refereed 56.5pc of those games.

Between draws and replays, there have been seven deciders refereed by just three men: Gavin three times, Kelly and McGrath twice each.

Now, you may question whether too much familiarity breeds a certain contempt; others may ask is the GAA doing enough to spread appointments?

CRISIS

This column has a different take: there is a very shallow pool of top-class hurling referees, a particular paucity from Munster, and this threatens to become a crisis when this core group hang up their whistles. Put it this way: would you be a referee if your decision could be labelled "criminal", three weeks after the event, by the most successful manager in the history of the game?

Methinks you'd think twice.

You could argue the rights and wrongs of Kelly's decision to punish Brian Hogan for alleged charging in the last big play of the drawn All-Ireland final between Kilkenny and Tipperary. Most neutrals, with the benefit of several replay viewings, would concur that it shouldn't have been a free to Tipp - play-on, rather than a free-in to Kilkenny, was probably the right call. And yes, given its timing and the scoreboard, it was a huge call.

SPLIT-SECOND

But Kelly only had one split-second view to make his decision and Kilkenny survived to eventually take home the cup. To use such loaded language as "criminal" - even if the Cats have a certain history with the Westmeath official, dating back to Galway's equalising free in the 2012 final and Henry Shefflin's red card last season - is not alone unfair and ill-timed but comes across as a cheap shot.

Westmeath GAA chairman Seán Sheridan issued his own loaded retort ("despicable") but made a salient point too: "No young fellow is going to want to take up the whistle after those comments."

The thing is, referees (like players) can have 'shockers' but still deserve respect. Moreover, Kelly's overall performance on September 7 earned praise from many neutral quarters. That has been buried amid Kilkenny's dispensing of revenge as a dish best served cold.

Cody isn't the last manager who feels sufficiently emboldened by All-Ireland deliverance to vent his spleen (Jim Gavin against the refereeing of Joe McQuillan in 2013, Jim McGuinness against an author/journalist in 2012). All three cases left a bad taste; sport isn't just about being gracious in defeat, but victory too.

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