All-Ireland axe falls on ref Sludden
The referee at the centre of the biggest controversy involving an official in a GAA match in recent times has been dropped from the inter-county panel for 2012.
Martin Sludden of Tyrone will not oversee any Championship game this summer as the Central Referees Appointments Committee (CRAC) have opted to reduce the panel from 18 to 16.
The decision to decrease the size of the panels was taken so that each referee will have a minimum of three matches over the course of the season.
It is hoped that the referee for the All-Ireland final this year will have taken charge of at least four previous Championship matches.
Sludden is one of four referees to have been dropped from last year's squad as three new faces are introduced — Westmeath's Pat Fox, Waterford's Maurice Condon and Meath's Joe Curley have not retained their places either.
Pat McEnaney — the best known referee of recent times — retired at the end of last season after reaching the age of 50, but he has since been appointed as chairman of the National Referees Committee.
In place of the five who are gone, the CRAC have introduced three — Cork's Conor Lane, Derry's Barry Cassidy and Fermanagh's Martin Higgins (a previous panelist).
Last year's inclusion of Sludden raised eyebrows after his controversial decision to allow an injury-time Meath goal to stand in the Leinster final in 2010 despite clear evidence that Joe Sheridan had carried the ball across the Louth goal-line.
He engaged in only a brief consultation with his umpires and if the goal had not stood, Louth would have won their first Leinster title in 50 years.
The controversy raged on for weeks and Sludden did not appear again that season.
The Tyrone man only took charge of two Championship matches in 2011 — the qualifier games between Down and Leitrim and Antrim and Westmeath — which was a sign that he was being phased out.
Last year's All-Ireland final referee Joe McQuillan heads the list and it will be interesting to see if he takes charge of any of Kerry's Championship matches in 2012.
The Kingdom were known to be highly dissatisfied with his performance after last year's final against Dublin.
With Hawk-Eye technology being installed in Croke Park next month and with the square-ball rule being modified, the load on referees could be lessened this summer.
The referees will convene next week for assessment and a briefing ahead of the commencement of the Championships.
Fitness has become one of the biggest issues after it was discovered that the average referee ran 12km in a Championship match.
The CRAC is chaired by former Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) chairman Seamus Woods and he is joined by the current CCCC chairman Simon Moroney, Dickie Murphy from the national referees committee and Pat Doherty, Croke Park's referees co-ordinator.
Inter-county football referees panel: Joe McQuillan (Cavan), David Coldrick (Meath), Maurice Deegan (Laois), Rory Hickey (Clare) Michael and Marty Duffy (both Sligo), Syl Doyle (Wexford), Padraig O'Sullivan (Kerry), Padraig Hughes (Armagh), Derek Fahy (Longford), Michael Collins (Cork), Cormac Reilly (Meath), Eddie Kinsella (Laois), Conor Lane (Cork), Martin Higgins (Fermanagh), Barry Cassidy (Derry).