Manus Boyle column: Referee issues raise their head again

Manus Boyle column: Referee issues raise their head again

On Sunday last we saw the Connacht football championship final at two o’clock and the Munster hurling championship final at four. RTE covered both games.

Regardless of the results one thing that stood out most for me was how they were officiated. The referee in the football game blew his whistle at the least bit of physicality whereas the referee in the hurling game let the game develop and didn’t spend the entire game dishing out yellow and black cards.

The football game, up until the last minute, was a tame enough affair. The hurlers of Cork and Clare held nothing back. They tackled like men possessed and never pulled away from any encounter. Frees were hard earned and they just got on with it. The referee kept control but at the same time let the players get on with it. He allowed the game to flow and the players reacted in a positive manner.

In fairness most of the hurling officials tend to allow the games to develop and let the players express their skills. Maybe it’s because those that look after hurling are interested in the game itself and are not distracted by what it looks like on the television or how it should be marketed best.

Even the pundits that comment on television are reluctant to call for changes just because of one or two bad games. Yes, the hurling referees make mistakes but they are not scrutinised as much as their football counterparts.

Football has become near impossible to referee. Every tackle could be conceived as a black card; any bit of physical contact results in a free. The pace of the game has changed as well; the ball is moved that quickly that some of the referees struggle to keep up with the game and are making big calls from 50 yards away. They are slowing the game down in order to catch up with the play, and to be honest too many players are going to ground far too easy.

Take the Galway, Roscommon match. It wasn’t a dirty game but it was littered with frees and cards. There was very little flow to the game and you could visibly see the players getting frustrated. At the slightest hint of physical contact the game was stopped; players tried their best to tackle but were blown time after time, but at the same time the referee allowed sometimes three men to tackle the ball carrier, which in itself is a foul, but would blow the ball carrier for holding on too long.

To be fair I don’t place the blame on the individual referee because I think it’s next to near impossible to control a game where the tackle is not defined suitably. The black card has made their life hell, and when they are assessed they are not assessed on the how the game was played but whether or not they ticked all the boxes from a technical point of view.

How many games over the weekend did we hear that managers or supporters had issues with the way the game was refereed? The Armagh, Westmeath game had problems which escalated further in the stand between supporters. After the Donegal, Meath game the Meath manager made a beeline for the match officials. I am sure that if Donegal had lost the game Rory Gallagher could have asked a few questions on many of the frees that Meath were awarded.

To be fair a lot of the off the ball stuff has gone and that must be welcomed but increasingly games are being decided by calls from the officials. We are not allowed to question or criticise the performance of officials as it undermines their authority. Even when they get it wrong.

The headlines should always be about the players and how the game was won or lost, not on what decision changed the game.

Meath could have easily been a banana skin for Donegal last weekend. After the defeat by Tyrone and the poor performance against Longford, confidence would not have been at its highest. Meath, with home advantage, were always going to put it up to Donegal. At times we struggled to contain them but to be fair we played with a bit more positivity; we moved the ball a bit quicker and were, for the most part, solid in defence.

Our support play was a lot better than in the past few games and players were willing to take a bit more responsibility. While the brilliance of Patrick McBrearty and Michael Murphy got us over the line, it was great to see a better spread of scores with Jason McGee, Frank McGlynn and Ryan McHugh all chipping in. With Galway next we can only hope that we keep improving as the games come along. Galway will be hurt by the criticism of their display against Roscommon, so they will want a positive reaction.

Donegal, on the other hand, will know they have not reached anywhere near the level they can play at and with the summer coming to an end they know they need to find that level fairly quickly.