Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

Joe Kernan: Referees must prove ruling class

The Experimental Disciplinary Rules have not gone away, you know.

True, the required two-thirds majority may not have been obtained at last week-end’s Congress in Cork to ensure their extension into the Championship season but that does not diminish the belief that the format under which games have been played from January 1 until now may be re-visited — perhaps sooner rather than later.

It is questionable if any other sport in the world would have erased the rules applicable in that period given what took place at the Congress voting on what was surely the prime issue.

Had just eight more votes been registered in favour of the rules, then we would all be facing into the Championship eagerly anticipating their impact when games become much more intense.

And given that some twenty delegates did not actually cast their votes, one wonders if they were not mandated appropriately by their county boards or,.worse still, did they ignore their mandate.

This has certainly left something of a bitter taste in the mouth and serves to persuade me - and others, I would imagine – that we may not have heard the last of the experimental disciplinary rules.

As chairman of the Rules Task Force, I thought Liam O’Neill did an excellent job and by all accounts made a very robust presentation of the benefits of the rules at Congress.

But the voting ultimately went against him (177-100) and left him disappointed.

Now it’s up to three separate groups — players, managers and referees —to ensure that the forthcoming Championship season proves memorable for all the right reasons.

It was stated by more than one delegate at Congress that the experimental disciplinary rules are not really necessary because the existing rules are more than adequate to deal with ongoing problems in gaelic football and hurling.

That may be so — but it’s the actual APPLICATION of these rules by referees that’s the major headache.

Now I think a situation has evolved where players will be under even closer scrutiny to refrain from repeated fouling, managers will be expected to themselves discipline or drop such players and referees will be under pressure to ensure that the rules are applied fairly and consistently — a tall order all round. I would now hope that Christy Cooney’s first Championship season as the new president will be marked by a rich programme of thrilling Championship matches enhanced by sportsmanship and firm refereeing.

There are undoubtedly a number of top-flight whistlers who are more than capable of exerting control over games under the ‘old’ rules – I’m thinking here of people like Pat McEnaney, Jimmy White and Brian Crowe – but I can’t help feeling that their task has been made even harder.

Pulling and dragging, the sinister practice of players surrounding a referee in an intimidating manner, feigning injury, late tackling and provocative words and gestures were, sadly, part of the Championship menu last year. Let’s hope they are not served up again this time round and that an edict will go out that only one representative from a team, perhaps the captain, will be empowered to approach a referee to seek clarification on any matter.

The experimental disciplinary rules will be in vogue for the last time – for now – when the National Football League Finals are played over the course of this week-end.

Liam Bradley could spark what might prove a lucrative week-end for Ulster when he sends his Antrim side out against Sligo imbued with passion and hunger to repeat their earlier league win over Kevin Walsh’s men while Down manager Ross Carr can plot another victory over Tipperary.

Hunger and heart will certainly not be in short supply when Monaghan square up to Cork in the Division Two final – Seamus McEnaney’s side will be ready to go through a wall and for this reason they may squeeze out the Leesiders.

But even though my heart says that Derry must win the Division One final, my head insists that Kerry’s strength in depth and craft may stand to them.

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The tragic death of Conor McCusker has left a void in his family that will never be filled. Brother of Derry full-back Niall McCusker, he had contributed to the family’s enormous input into the Ballinderry Shamrocks club. The thoughts and prayers of GAA people everywhere today are with the family at this sad time.

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