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Top dollar on offer to players but referees are at the bottom of the ladder in US, says Duggan

 

John Campbell

By John Campbell

Scarcely had hands been lowered after the vote to introduce Tier Two of the All-Ireland Football Championship had been taken at the weekend Special Congress than an exodus of inter-county players to the United States was being predicted.

Fuelled by a rigid belief in some quarters that many managers will find themselves bereft of quality material, the speculation has, not surprisingly, intensified as the week has progressed.

But a strident voice warns that players may not find that they are heading off to a sporting utopia after all.

Armagh man Hugh Duggan refereed the 1979 All-Ireland final between Dublin and Kerry, and for the past 38 years he has been a driving force in the GAA Stateside.

As a coach, manager, administrator and honorary president of USGAA, Duggan has played a leading role in fostering the aims of the Association at all levels on the other side of the Atlantic.

And it has certainly not been all plain sailing, claims the man who is now the USGAA Referees' Administrator.

"I have travelled 30,000 miles back and forward across the US this year to date in an effort to attract and motivate new referees in the GAA, but I am up against a problem," raps Duggan.

"They don't want to take the abuse that they see being dished out here. Potential referees don't have the background that people in Ireland have of maybe playing all their lives and becoming accustomed to things.

"I see this as a threat to the game here. It's a drag trying to get people to take up refereeing because they are well aware of the abuse to which they might be subjected along the line, and that's a big deterrent.

"We now have 125 clubs in the US, with the number having increased by 50% in the last five years, yet the number of referees we have has remained basically the same, so you can see the extent of the problem."

Duggan concedes that while clubs are prepared to pay "top dollar" to entice players from Ireland, referees are being left "at the bottom of the ladder" because of a lack of funding.

And he maintains that, without good referees, Gaelic football cannot flourish to the extent that it should.

"Ironically, it is actually easier for a referee to officiate now because teams tend to retain possession for longer, players are usually on guard against conceding unnecessary fouls and there is a fourth official to take some of the responsibility on occasions," points out Duggan.

"But at the end of the day, good referees can play their part in lifting the standard of games. It is my hope that both in Ireland and the United States referees will be afforded greater status.

"I know mistakes will be made in matches but if the overall standard can be improved then the game can progress on both sides of the Atlantic."

Duggan, whose brother Paul is a former chairman of the Armagh county board, is adamant that the recruitment battle will go on.

"I think we have to push on and do the best we can," he adds.

While there is the possibility of an influx of players from this country, Duggan believes that every player is entitled to "give it a go" in the US while they still have the chance.

"While there is considerable speculation on this subject at the moment, let's wait and see how things pan out," says Duggan.

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