Danny Hughes: Two referees are better than one
IF the Dr McKenna Cup final was a sparring match, I would say both Armagh and Tyrone will have been happy with their work-outs.
Both teams, though, will know that the real bouts start this weekend.
Getting a win in the first League game is imperative for many teams. It doesn't matter how this happens. All that matters is the two points.
The non-adoption of the controversial handpass rule will be welcomed by all players and managers, however, the fact that most of the other rules will be adopted for the Allianz League proves that those affected the most invariably have the least influence.
The margin at Congress for ‘binning' the handpass wasn't overwhelming either, just about voting to scrap it on a 25-23 vote.
You do begin to wonder how this actually happened, given that the rule change appeared to be despised across the board on and off the field of play.
It appears that the gulf in thinking between the committee room and field of play continues to widen.
I do have some sympathy for referees in today's game who have had very little to say, nor it seems any influence, on the practicalities of adopting rule changes.
Granted, I am not a referee, nor am I aware of their process for meeting and discussing the official rules changes, but from the outside it is only going to add more pressure and criticism to their role.
This is something that GAA President John Horan admitted to this week when questioned on his preferred choices for change.
The Dr McKenna Cup final is a good example of the current plight we, as stakeholders in the game, all face.
In what was a difficult match to officiate, Joe McQuillan produced a very inconsistent performance at the Athletic Grounds, to put it diplomatically.
Do we really think things are going to get much better as the season progresses and the stakes become much higher?
I just can't see it.
One of the problems in Gaelic football continues to centre around the definition of a good tackle and, more importantly, what is a foul and what is not.
Every referee has a different interpretation of their own and, by and large, are allowed to referee the game as they see it.
Rugby and soccer do not have the same ‘grey areas' as Gaelic.
My frustration remains consistent in that we can't even apply the current rules correctly, never mind adopting new ones.
I honestly believe that two referees at inter-county level is the only way forward for Gaelic football.
Given that we continue to ignore this one practical change, surely the fact that soccer, rugby and American football have introduced a combination of video refereeing and additional manpower on the field of play begs the question: Have we anything to lose by simply trialling it?
Seriously, think about it in practical terms. It would mean that one man/woman, being the referee, influences the outcome less, having only one half of the field to adopt his/ her ‘interpretations'.
It would also mean that referees' standards will improve indirectly and, as a result, each person can hold the other to account via their performances.
Referees may actually receive more confidence from their colleague (in some cases), as they understand the teams involved, the flow of the game and perhaps even those repeat offenders as regards indiscipline.
At club league level, it may not be practical, but certainly at club Championship level, it could become feasible. Most club Championship games are played sporadically over a few days or a weekend so weight of numbers should not be an issue.
The key question is: ‘Will a second referee in the game improve it as a spectacle'? A definite ‘yes' from my point of view.
Maybe it is too simplistic to say that it solves a lot of problems from the spectators' and players' perspectives. However, this rule adoption has never been tried and continues to be overlooked.
When two additional officials were introduced into soccer behind the goal-lines at either end of the field, the impact was immediate and, over time, went unnoticed (as all good rule changes should).
The same goes for the use of technology within the game. The ‘Hawkeye' technology has benefited the game and helped to instil confidence in games which would otherwise have been a PR disaster for the association and mired in controversy. No-one can say this system hasn't provided clarity.
As fans of the game, we want the end result to be about fairness and transparency. It should be about the best players and the best teams.
Both players and managers do not deserve a game's outcome to be dictated by poor refereeing performances.
No team, given the amount of effort that goes into preparing for seasons and Championships, deserves to be eliminated on factors outside their control.
We reduce this liability through support of officials, through a combination of additional manpower, expertise and sharing the load or pressure.
The GAA has a big problem and it continues to be one which rears its head year-in, year-out.
For many years now, I have seen very little evidence of an overall improvement in performance within officialdom.
Despite many high-profile controversies over the years, these performances from well-established officials, do not get any better.
This is the very opposite of the approach taken at management level in any other sporting organisation as regards officialdom.
When it is accepted that there was a poor performance from an official, action is taken and this may mean the particular official in question is ‘rested' or taken out of the competitive environment altogether.
We are not placing referees on a different pedestal to ourselves. We all make mistakes and have poor performances, which is the very nature of competitive sport and also a fundamental human trait.
This impact on a game and, more importantly, a result, will be mitigated and lessened by the introduction of a second referee who patrols a specific half.
Alongside this, delegating the officials as a number one and number two respectively, where the senior official (the number one) has the final say is potentially a way forward.
Few would argue that by providing the referees themselves with another set of eyes and ears may lead to more individuals considering refereeing as a pathway in our Games. It no longer becomes an impossible job.
From a mental and physical perspective, it also protects referees from the ire of supporters at games and within the media sphere (social or otherwise).
Current referees need to take a lead also and pressure the authorities into taking action.
Sometimes the most obvious changes are the most simple.
So if GAA president John Horan's concerns are real and the plight of referees is front and centre of the decisions to adopt new rules, try a second referee in a game.
This is the best way to help referees help themselves.