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Down legend Coulter whistles up player power

By John Campbell

The ongoing issue of inconsistencies in the application of the playing rules by referees is threatening to seriously undermine the image of the GAA not just in Ulster but in the country as a whole.

And while the National Referees Committee as well as various county boards attempt to deal with what is becoming a festering sore, long-serving Down forward Benny Coulter today steps forward with a suggestion which he feels could help alleviate the frustration, disenchantment and even rancour which have been so prevalent since the start of the season.

Coulter, who has spent over a decade in the Down line-up and has represented Ulster in the inter-provincial championship and Ireland in the International Rules, is urging the GAA authorities to approach former inter-county players with a view to recruiting them as referees.

“I honestly think that if more such players were to be approached in this context they might just express an interest,” says Coulter.

“Indeed, I would go so far as to say that they should be fast-tracked into the refereeing fraternity.

“I say this for two main reasons — these boys would have better knowledge of how the game is actually played and I think they would garner more respect from players seeing as how they would be regarded as having been there and done that themselves,” insists Coulter now a busy full-time coaching officer.

Like the majority of players at present, Coulter accepts that referees have a difficult job to do and acknowledges that the implementation of the experimental rules has if anything, made their task that little bit more awkward.

“Referees are under a lot of pressure and they seem to be blowing up more fouls than usual.

“I appreciate the situations in which they find themselves — they are after all being assessed in every match they handle and they can’t afford to make mistakes otherwise they will maybe find themselves out of the frame for bigger games that might come along later.

“I have sympathy with them in this respect but that does not make the lot of the players themselves any easier,” points out Coulter who has won a string of Down championship medals with his club Mayobridge.

The rash of red cards in inter-county games spanning the past month which has led to the decisions of some referees being questioned by higher authorities has fermented the belief that the confidence of whistlers may now be undermined and Coulter agrees that this could further impact on their performances.

“We have had a lot of suspensions throughout the country so far and we are nowhere near the high-intensity level of the Championship.

“It seems that more players are being sent off for trivial offences - red cards should only be used as an extreme measure.

“I think that referees should use common sense throughout games and they must take on board the fact that there will be bumps and bruises along the way,” states Coulter.

Coulter’s suggestion is being viewed in a favourable light.

One well-known Ulster referee said yesterday: “There is no doubt that players who have maybe brought the curtain down on their county careers would have the level of knowledge of the game, a real ‘feel’ for the game and an acceptable level of fitness to make good referees.”

And while Coulter himself is preparing for Down’s important match against Tipperary on Saturday week as they bid to maintain their unbeaten run in Division Two, he believes that the fisted-pass experimental rule will be binned when Congress comes round.

“I do not think it is a rule that benefits our game. While we are now making fewer mistakes from it, I cannot see the rule being ratified at Congress,” said Coulter.

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