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Chiefs to reveal fix for black card rule

By John Campbell

The Championship season is less than a month old and yet the GAA finds itself confronted by a potential crisis situation.

Last night the top 16 referees in the country were summoned to an 'extraordinary' Croke Park forum at which the controversy surrounding the implementation – or, more pertinently, the non-implementation – of the black card disciplinary measure was thrashed out.

And later today National Referees' Appointments Committee chairman Pat McEnaney is expected to outline what remedial action, if any, is to be taken if Championship matches are not to degenerate into trench warfare rather than contests of skill and flair.

GAA chiefs, clearly concerned at the adverse publicity, are anxious to move quickly in a desperate bid to bring uniformity and consistency to the application of a rule that is threatening the very fabric of the competition.

It was thought that when David Coldrick, by common consent the best referee in the country, was entrusted with the Tyrone v Down Ulster series opener the match was in safe hands.

Not so. Coldrick's astonishing failure to flash a black card to Down's Conor Maginn for hauling down Tyrone's Mark Donnelly was just one of several decisions that was to prompt a fierce critique from Red Hands boss Mickey Harte, which doubtless had no small part to play in last night's Headquarters summit.

Coldrick's marked reluctance to invoke the necessary disciplinary sanctions were compounded when Cavan whistler Joe McQuillan, who took charge of last year's Dublin v Mayo All-Ireland final, denied Derry at least four 'stonewall' frees in their game against Donegal on Sunday.

McQuillan appeared to be preoccupied with 'letting the game flow' – an expression that has now become a euphemism for anything goes.

It's hardly surprising, then, that the sport's administrators have stepped in to try and stop what is becoming a discernible rot.

Tyrone boss Harte threw down the gauntlet to the Referees' Committee and indeed to the GAA hierarchy when he declared: "It's difficult to understand what set of rules apply from day to day. The rules that applied in our drawn Championship game against Down did not remotely resemble the rules that we played to during the McKenna Cup and the league."

And he went on: "Somebody needs to tell us what's going on. Where was the advantage rule, too? Were there opportunities to give an advantage? I think there were several of them.

"Is this rule in or not? Tell us one way or the other. I wouldn't complain if I knew that standards were going to prevail all the way."

If Harte was less than impressed with Coldrick's performance, then Derry boss Brian McIver was equally disappointed with Joe McQuillan last Sunday.

The Oak Leaf boss, normally affable and articulate, clearly counted to 10 before restricting himself to saying: "There were a lot of decisions that should have been going our way that did not."

It's against this overall worrying backdrop that the GAA is now locked in a battle for credibility with the Championship season still in its infancy.

And if further proof that incompetent refereeing could seriously tarnish the image, presentation and indeed status of the Championship, then it came from Pat McEnaney himself.

"We are looking at major Championship matches here and we have studied them very carefully," revealed Corduff clubman McEnaney.

"We did not get the crucial calls right and we need to get them right. Criticism is something we have to accept. The referees haven't performed up to the level we wanted them to.

"There were two deliberate pull-downs and we got them wrong. We need to get better.

"Frustrating isn't the right word. I would prefer to call the situation challenging and we'll give some thought on how to respond to this in a positive manner."

It is understood that referees had an opportunity to air their views at last night's forum and it now seems certain that the spotlight will be focused even more strongly on them for the remainder of the Championship season.

First to step into what has become a much more pressurised zone will be Down whistler Ciaran Branagan when Fermanagh host Antrim in their Ulster quarter-final at Brewster Park, Enniskillen on Sunday.

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