Referees raising the bar, insists former chief McEnaney
Former GAA referees' chief Pat McEnaney has offered a stern defence of officials after Donegal captain Michael Murphy was controversially black carded in his side's defeat to Galway at the weekend, just days after Down's Kevin McKernan had his suspension overturned for accumulating three black cards.
While acknowledging that Murphy's punishment "was one of the questionable ones", the man accepted as the finest referee in the modern age stated: "I think overall this year there has been a big improvement from referees.
"If you look at the Kevin McKernan black card on Sean Cavanagh, yes he got off with it, but that was a deliberate one. The referee got it right.
"I am on record as saying this, but the black card has been very successful when it comes to body-checking. I have openly said that there needs to be an improvement in consistency levels in this year's Championship, but the referees have improved at national level and are getting it right most of the time. Not all of the time, but most of the time."
McEnaney is still refereeing club games in his native Monaghan and the occasional inter-county challenge match.
Asked if he himself awards the black card frequently, he believes his notoriety goes before him, having been an enthusiastic supporter of the introduction of the punishment.
"It doesn't happen that often because players think before I go on the pitch that, 'This is McEnaney, there better be no body-checking, there better be no deliberate pull downs because he is going to black card me'," he laughed.
He also spoke in support of Down referee Ciaran Branagan, who was accosted upon leaving the pitch at the end of Saturday's All-Ireland qualifier between Cork and Mayo with questions over the amount of time played in the second period of extra-time.
"I think there was a clock running in the stadium that was stopping and starting, it was their time. But the actual TV time and (Branagan's) time was correct, I believe," McEnaney said.
For the second week running, Sky TV highlighted that a referee leaving the pitch required an escort, but McEnaney believes that is being exaggerated.
"I have watched the full game between Cork and Mayo and he delivered a very good performance in that match, and I mean a very good performance," he said.
"In fairness to Peader Healy, the Cork manager, he didn't make anything of it at all.
"I think there was a bit of argy-bargy from some of the selectors coming off the pitch but I think when they sit down and analyse the game and how he refereed it again, then Ciaran Branagan wasn't far off the mark.
"I think referees know it's part of that level. You have got to be prepared to take that kind of hit and stuff and think, 'Maybe sometimes we are a bit slow in coming out and supporting a referee'.
"In most cases as a referee you are better saying nothing and moving on and letting it go, because when referees start biting back they're dragging the thing on a wee bit."