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GAA is tougher than ever for refs

Referees have come under heavy fire after the opening rounds of the football championship.

But Belfast man John Gough last night made a spirited defence of his former colleagues.

“I don’t care what people might say about referees, but the reality is that they are twice as good as referees of the past.

“They are much fitter and they apply the rules and you have to remember they are refereeing a more difficult game.

“The game we have now is faster and more skillful, but more important than anything else is that the skills of the game must be allowed to blossom.

“And a priority is to eliminate those players guilty of continually pulling and dragging.

“The message being sent out is that players have to play within the rules in a major way compared with what went on in the past.”

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Gough, a former All Ireland referee, and now responsible for assessing referees, made the national headlines after sending off four players, three Dublin and one Galway in the 1983 All Ireland football decider.

He’s as passionate about the sport as he was all those years ago. And he was genuinely surprised at the media reaction to the Derry and Armagh championship match in Celtic Park.

As far as he’s concerned it was an intriguing 70 minutes that made for compulsive viewing.

But he admits that the number of matches that are actually played within the rules are few and far between.

“The rules of the game are quite specific, but coaches are always going to coach outside them.

“And then they scream the place down when they get a referee who implements the rules.

“The only way a referee can be fair to both sides is by implementing the rules consistently for the full 70 minutes.”

The change to the handpass rule has prompted great debate, but Gough makes the very valid

point that something had to be done.

Indeed he argues that it had reached a stage where some of the top players in the sport, men with numerous All Ireland medals were simply throwing the ball.

“In hurling a referee rarely blows more than 30 frees in a match simply because players have two hands on the hurl.

“In a football match the contrast could hardly be greater with as many as 69 or 70 frees in a match and that is even for allowing the match to flow as best he can.

“But now with assessors sitting in the stand referees have no choice. They have to be totally consistent in their application of the rules. In terms of referee’s preparation we’re leaving nothing to chance.”

Gough maintains that you only have to look at some old DVDs to be aware of the huge difference in the game today.

But keeping up with the game and implementing the rules remains the priority for top referees.

Mick McGrath, the former Donegal inter county referee, was a member of the committee that devised the rules experiment during the Allianz football league.

During his time on the committee, he analysed a random club match to get a sense of the scale of the problem.

“It could be seen from the 200 handpasses in the game that 77 were illegal. That’s a problem, but if the referee doesn’t blow for these fouls players don’t complain, media don’t complain and fans don’t complain,” he said.

“But what’s the point of having the rule? You might as well allow throwing.

“I’d invite anyone to watch a club game and ask themselves how many handpasses are being properly executed.”

The experiment didn’t survive the cull at last month’s Annual Congress in Newcastle.

But surprisingly a motion from the Connacht Council stipulated the open handpass would have to be struck in a definite underhand motion did secure the two thirds majority needed.

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