GAA Football

Hitting The Target: Sideline view engenders sympathy for the beleaguered GAA referees

Laois's David Conway and Antrim's Kevin Niblock both argue about their simultaneous black cards from referee Eamon O'Grady - but the official's task is extremely difficult. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

SOMETIMES a change of perspective brings a different view; a different view also changes perspective.

Watching Antrim's Allianz Football League game against Laois from the sidelines at Corrigan Park increased my admiration for players, managers, and – most of all – the match officials.

It's not the first time I've watched a Gaelic football match from such a vantage point, but the speed of a National League game was amazing in comparison to Sigerson Cup or even McKenna Cup.

The absence of a stand didn't only affect poor little me – such a setting means the game is more affected by any wind, although Antrim players said afterwards that the recent game with Sligo had had much more difficult playing conditions.

Managers tend to watch games from pitch level, of course, but increasingly often they have at least one other pair of eyes in an elevated position, somewhere in a stand, perhaps even someone with access to a live video feed.

It was not a great shock that basically the same view from the sideline, separated only by the few yards of grass between the two dug-outs, produced two very different sets of views – in terms of opinions about the fairness and accuracy of the officiating.

Debate did descend to playground level at times: "He hit him first!" "No, he hit him first!"

Cynicism was there too, with one manager (naming no names, but he wasn't a joint-manager) calmly advising one of his players to continue antagonising a particular opponent: "Keep at him, he's on a yellow."

In the middle of this swirl of bodies and shouting was the poor referee.

Close to the action, certainly, but trying to watch what was happening on the ball, off the ball, and perhaps 60 yards away on the occasions that someone chose to boot that ball towards an inside forward.

Antrim and Laois are no worse – and no better – than every other team in that there's a fair amount of unfair practices going on; actions that might metaphorically, and occasionally literally, be described as 'below the belt' and similarly as 'behind the back', certainly of the referee.

Without suggesting that players (at least not all of them) are committing criminal acts on the pitch, the expectations placed on the referee are as unfair as those put on the single watchman in the 'Panopticon' concept, with one person, in theory, able to watch all the inmates of an institution (usually a prison).

In practice, of course, one person cannot see what so many are doing at the same time.

Clearly (albeit obscured by players' bodies), the ref cannot possibly watch all that is going on. Unlike the media, he can't check and make corrections later, nor does he have the helpfully higher viewing position that we usually enjoy.

Referees do have help of course, but ironically (or is it hypocritically? - see below) they tend to be criticised even if they do avail of other opinions/ viewpoints.

Sunday's ref, Eamon O'Grady from Leitrim, did consult a linesman about one of the key decisions of the match, showing a straight red card to Laois half-forward Damien O'Connor shortly before half-time after yet another clash with Antrim's Conor Murray – yet Mr O'Grady was still vilified by the Laois bench for that dismissal.

Other managers this season alone have also complained about calls made by referees after discussions with linesmen or umpires.

Perhaps the match officials did get those decisions wrong, maybe they did make mistakes, but their calls are based on what they see, which often isn't the full picture.

Surely everyone can see that, no matter where they're standing or sitting.

* On the subject of perspective, deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Derry City captain Ryan McBride, who passed away at the weekend. A sporting life ended far too soon.


AFTER the critical acclaim for my 'Irony or Hypocrisy' column of a few years ago (well, one chap praised it to my sports editor), I considered turning it into a regular feature.

Legal opinion intervened; apparently people don't like being labelled hypocrites, even if you show convincingly that what they said was in direct contradiction to what they actually later did.

So, possibly for this week only, please enjoy a new section called:

'Who said that? He said what?'

I'll give you no guesses about the identity of this speaker, speaking in a documentary aired in August 2015:

"When I returned, I felt the experience of Chelsea playing Europa League was not good. The Europa League is a different competition [to the Champions League], the Europa League is a different level of competition for a different level of player and a different level of club.

"It is not good for a big club to go there and win it."

Fast forward to the weekend just past, and here's what the same man has to say about that secondary competition for lower level clubs:

"If I can choose, I will choose the Europa League than to finish fourth because it gives us the same – Champions League football. It is a trophy, it is prestige, it is Europe and it means playing a European Super Cup fixture next year."

Yep, that's Manchester United's manager, Jose Mourinho – and all those things applied when he made those comments.

Ironically enough, the man he was jibing at in that documentary, his predecessor as Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez, received harsh criticism for labelling Everton a "smaller club" than Liverpool (not "a small club").

Imagine if Rafa had implied that Manchester United isn't a big club…

Moving on to rugby, and French lock Yoann Maestri – no, me neither – made some rather ridiculous remarks about referee Wayne Barnes.

Now, it's not at all shocking that the controversial English official Barnes has come in for some criticism – but Maestri seemed to completely misconstrue the relationship between England and Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

"Anglo-Saxon referees always talk about fair play but the reality is that they think we're cheats…[Perhaps because you sneaked a better scrummager back onto the pitch?]

"When you are repeatedly crushed in a five-metre scrum, you concede defeat.

"There's a complicity between Anglo-Saxons and it is in these moments that you realise it. It was unbelievable."

Not one-quarter as unbelievable as labelling the Irish, Scots, and Welsh as Anglo-Saxon. Ironically, a few Anglo-Saxon phrases might be appropriate to send to Monsieur Maestri.

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