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Joe Kernan: Tragedies remind us of great debt we owe to our referees

Never in the history of the GAA have fitness and stamina tests for referees been so rigorous.

When the Association initiated the new conditioning programmes for whistlers it was felt that quite a number of them would fall by the wayside either through lack of commitment or inability to meet the criteria required.

Surprisingly perhaps, the majority of referees who have taken the tests have come through with flying colours due in no small measure to the self-sacrifices they made in pursuing their own rigid personal training schedules.

Thus the death of Martin Mulholland and the serious illness incurred by Gabriel Tumelty came as a great shock to everyone in the GAA.

Here we had two men who were giving their services voluntarily in an area of the Association which is virtually under continuous criticism.

Yet it is worth remembering that without referees no games would take place. Those people who make a huge effort every week to take charge of games at all levels are deserving of our gratitude. This being the case, it is all the more poignant when illness and death strikes at some of their number.

Martin Mulholland was a GAA man through and through, a father of four who was utterly dedicated to his club Slaughtneil and his county Derry.

Gabriel Tumelty remains similarly committed to Bright and to Down, a man who believed in going the extra mile when and where demanded of him.

When a player or referee leaves his home with his bots in his bag he expects to return there in a similar healthy state.

It behoves us all to care for ourselves — when you see what can happen to fit, energetic men who live for their sport it is a sharp lesson to the rest of us to take stock of our well-being.

Belfast Telegraph

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