Tyrone official warns of referee shortage

Eugene McConnell (centre) with Martin Higgins and Liam Bradley  
Eugene McConnell (centre) with Martin Higgins and Liam Bradley  

A RECRUITMENT crisis is threatening to force the cancellation of games in Tyrone due to an acute shortage of referees.

The warning comes from Eugene McConnell, chairman of the county’s Referees Committee, who has sent out an urgent appeal to clubs to answer the call.

“In the next three years, if we don’t collectively work towards ensuring a steady supply of new recruits we will have a serious problem in the numbers of experienced officials available to take charge of our games,” he said.

“Every year great emphasis is placed by clubs in finding suitable management teams for both adult and youth teams, but sadly there isn’t the same emphasis placed on finding suitable recruits who will fulfil an equally vital role of club referee.

“In the next three years we could be bordering on a very dangerous situation due to the dwindling numbers plus potential further retirements going into 2017.”

McConnell, a former inter-county referee, said the problem is being exacerbated by the retirements of increasing numbers of experienced officials.

“The ageing profile of the current referees panel adds to the seriousness of the problem. Sadly the existing panel of referees can’t go on for ever.

“There is a great need to close the gap between the number of experienced referees and the numbers of referees who are not yet up to the criteria which would deem them as equal in experience.”

He believes the solution lies not just with the clubs, but in a unified approach by a number of units.

“Unless there is a radical rethink amongst all the key stakeholders, – the clubs, CCC, The County Committee and the Referees Committee, it is not very far away until we have a major task ensuring that all our games are covered in any given week.

“The talk has been about player burnout but this area of concern is also a major problem amongst our own referees due to the demands placed by dual roles officiating as club referees in both Mens and Ladies codes plus an ever growing number of our current referees also acting as referee within other sporting codes.

“All of these demands place additional burdens of the availability of personnel to cover all our games. Serious discussions need to take place as to how we attract new recruits to take up refereeing.

“We all have a responsibility to make refereeing attractive while at the same time providing support and backup to ensure the new recruits remain once they have undertaken their initial training. The onus must be a shared responsibility for all those with a part to play to fulfil their obligations and not leave it simply to someone else to carry the burden.

“It’s time the topic of refereeing becomes a more than one of lip service. Let’s ensure clubs are made step up to the mark.”

The problem is equally pressing in hurling, and McConnell called on the county’s hurling clubs to ‘step up to the mark’.

“Another equally pressing issue revolves around recruiting new hurling referees. I must congratulate the three new recruits who did take up the role of hurling referee in the past year.

“We managed to train up three new hurling referees but two of these came from football clubs. The hurling clubs must step up to the mark.

“We don’t have the number of hurling referees required and sadly without the dual role of our football referees we would not be in a position to appoint referees from within the county based on available hurling referees.”