There are three main groups of people primarily involved in the staging of all matches — managers, players and referees. And the sad thing is, particularly in terms of the major Championship games which highlight the annual fixtures calendar, that the only place in which they come together is within the perimeter fencing of a playing area.
On how many occasions will you see referees chatting to players away from the pitch? Or indeed even managers and referees engaged in animated conversation? Not too often, I hear you say — and that’s a great pity.
That’s why, given the growing sense of frustration and even confusion that appears to be going hand in hand with the Championships in all four provinces to date, I am suggesting that at some stage between September and December this year the GAA authorities should conduct a seminar in Dublin or other agreed venue at which a healthy representation from all three groups should be afforded the opportunity to discuss issues which are a source of concern and perhaps help bring a greater sense of co-operation and uniformity to the actual presentation of matches.
As things stand, I fear there is a grave danger that followers will eventually distance themselves from games because of what they perceive as inconsistent refereeing, an over-reliance on defensive strategies by managers and a less than honest approach by some players particularly in regard to eliciting frees and feigning injury.
Managers have a duty to send teams out properly prepared, players have a responsibility to ensure that the paying customers are afforded a decent level of entertainment and referees are entrusted with the task of ensuring that this is provided within the framework of the playing rules.
Yet in the Championship to date we have had 67 fouls awarded in the Derry v Armagh game, a proliferation of cards including three red waved in a relatively tame Wicklow v Carlow encounter and what appears to have been a somewhat embarrassing catalogue of rather strange decisions in the Meath v Offaly clash.
Surely this sends out the message that all is not as it should be and that remedial action is required.
We all knew in advance of the Championship that there might be some grey areas in relation to the new rules but there is now an element of what can only be described as farce abroad.
Yet consider the Antrim v Tyrone game at Casement Park, Belfast last Sunday. There was no controversy in relation to the hand pass rule, very few yellow cards issued, a marked absence of cynicism and no play-acting. Why? Because referee Pat McEnaney enjoyed the respect of the players for his commonsense approach that helped to make this one of the best matches in the overall Championship season to date.
His communication with players during the game and his willingness to let play flow contributed enormously to the quality of the contest and although Antrim manager Liam Bradley was clearly less than impressed at the end with what he felt were a couple of crucial decisions that went against his team nonetheless McEnaney continues to stand head and shoulders above his refereeing colleagues.
This is one of the reasons why I feel he should have a prominent role if and when a seminar between all parties takes place. I
believe that the four provinces should be invited to send a representative group of players, managers and referees to the event at which an unofficial review of this year’s Championship can be undertaken — the GAA of course conducts its own analysis of the competition — with a view to ironing out any problems that are still lingering in time for next year’s competition.
I am concerned that the current Championship blips could develop into something approaching a crisis and that the fans may become disenchanted with both playing and refereeing standards.
An honest, no-holds-barred seminar at which a frank exchange of views could take place has the potential to pave the way for greater uniformity and consistency on all fronts next year.
We must all be prepared to admit our failings and help generate the mutual respect that is conspicuous by its absence right now.
The ‘us and them’ scenario that pertains in relation to players and referees in particular is not conducive to the ongoing welfare of gaelic football nor is it helping to ferment honesty and sportsmanship.
The sooner that we are all on the one wavelength the better it will be for the GAA as a whole.