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No excuses; refs have to get big calls right

By John Campbell

GAA chiefs are united in at least one New Year wish — that there will be no repetition in 2011 of the extreme embarrassment the Association suffered this year because of controversial refereeing decisions in high-profile matches.

The decision of Tyrone referee Marti Sludden to allow Joe Sheridan’s ‘thrown’ goal to stand for Meath against Louth in the Leinster final and Pat McEnaney’s error in allowing Benny Coulter’s clearly illegal goal for Down against Kildare saw the GAA held up to ridicule.

Both refereeing verdicts became the subject of radio station phone-ins, countless centimetres of newsprint, protracted television debate and often vitriolic comment on web sites.

This is something that the Association can certainly do without in 2011, particularly as many clubs and counties are exiting 2010 against a backdrop of debt, emigration worries and even survival concerns.

GAA Director General Paraic Duffy has admitted that the image of the country’s biggest sporting body has shipped some “heavy blows” this year but believes that all concerned can learn from these.

“We have to be positive going forward and try and improve in those areas in which he may not have been shown in a good light,” said Monaghan native Duffy.

Only this week more concerns have been expressed that the in-depth analysis of matches on RTE’s programme ‘The Sunday Game’ is in essence serving as a judge and jury by highlighting incidents that referees may have missed.

Yet it was ‘The Sunday Game’ that initially showed conclusively in many incidences that there had been miscarriages of justice or that referees had been guilty of grave incompetence.

Tomorrow night RTE is scheduled to show a documentary on one of the most controversial players of the modern era, Kerry’s Paul Galvin, and it is a measure of the public’s fixation with the seamier side of the GAA that this is creating huge interest even before it is screened.

GAA President Christy Cooney has reiterated his desire to see certain issues tackled in the early part of 2011, including the alleged payment of managers in a number of counties and the suggested breach of the collective county squad training ban over November-December in some counties.

But Cooney’s biggest obstacle in striving to deal conclusively with these issues will be his difficulty in obtaining truthful information.

While 2010 provided many highlights on the playing pitches, it also left a distinctly sour taste in the mouth in some respects.

There are lessons to be absorbed as we enter 2011 — and the GAA will be the poorer if it fails to do this.

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