For the third Sunday in succession an Ulster referee will take charge of a high-profile match in the provincial football championship — and this has spawned the hope that the controversy sparked through the policing of the new playing rules in the earlier stages of the competition will abate further.
It was in the preliminary round tie between Derry and Armagh that Laois whistler Maurice Deegan saw fit to award 67 frees before Monaghan’s Pat McEnaney restored a greater degree of uniformity in his application of the rules during the Antrim v Tyrone match.
And if Cavan referee Joe McQuillan hinted in the early stages of last Sunday’s game between Donegal and Down that the tenor of the game might pose problems for him then he subsequently drew on a strong ration of common sense and diligence to emerge with some distinction.
On Sunday it is the turn of Tyrone whistler Martin Sludden (pictured) to step into the spotlight and having already acquired considerable experience of the inter-county arena it is felt that he will be capable of ensuring that the Armagh v Monaghan clash at Casement Park, a confrontation that is likely to bring the intensity levels to a new high, retains its audience appeal through firm but practical refereeing.
Monaghan will bring a hunger that has been gnawing at them for 22 years to the table, their last Ulster title triumph having been landed in 1988 when Sean McCague, later to serve as GAA president from 2000-2003, was their manager.
Monaghan’s McEnaney and his Armagh counterpart Paddy O’Rourke are refusing to be deflected from their selection and strategic duties because of ongoing debate on the merits or otherwise of the new rules.
O’Rourke was one of the first people to suggest that the retention of the new handpass rule might create problems and this being the case he is not totally surprised at what has taken place in earlier games.
“It was always going to be difficult to police by referees but there are signs that they are coming to terms with it,” he says.