It’s often said that the greatest compliment you can give a referee is that you didn’t notice their presence on the pitch.
Their purpose is to observe the play in front of them and step in only when they must. However, recently, more often than not, we have seen hurling referees become more talked about than the game itself and it is a worrying trend as we edge closer to another highly-anticipated summer of action.
We thought after Saturday’s ruling at GAA Congress that the talk around cards in hurling would die down but it only intensified on Sunday following a bizarre seven-minute period that saw three red cards dolled out in three different incidents during Tipperary’s two-point win over Waterford in Thurles.
The first recipient was Austin Gleeson after two yellow cards. It seems as though his first offence was a case of mistaken identity, however, the Mount Sion man was lucky not to walk on a straight red after his challenge on Cian Darcy which prompted referee Sean Stack to issue a second yellow card. On second viewing, Gleeson seems more interested in challenging for Darcy’s helmet rather than the ball and can consider himself very lucky that he is free to face Limerick next weekend.
The next incident occurred less than three minutes later when Kevin Moran was deemed to have dug his hurley into Jason Forde in what appeared, at first, to be some run-of-the-mill jostling. Stack consulted his linesman before making his decision and had Forde not fallen to the ground as easily as he did, the alleged offence might have been let off the hook.
In this instance, a warning to both players could have sufficed but because a player ended up on the ground clutching his stomach, Stack was forced into action. It only served to highlight how hurlers play up to the referee and that is another worrying conversation altogether.
Cárta dearg faighte ag Kevin Moran @WaterfordGAA
— Spórt TG4 (@SportTG4) March 1, 2020
The third incident was perhaps the most baffling. Firstly, there could be an argument that Cathal Barrett was fouled by Dessie Hutchinson before Barrett slapped him with his hand. The only reasoning for the sending off could be that the referee thought the Tipperary corner-back struck Hutchinson with his hurley but that was not the case.
However, what was most bizarre was that Stack consulted the umpire standing beside the Waterford goal almost 80 yards away from the incident and it was his testimony that sent Barrett to the line. Liam Sheedy has already spoken about appealing the card and they have a very strong case on their hands.
Cathal Barrett given a red card @TipperaryGAA 😬
— Spórt TG4 (@SportTG4) March 1, 2020
This is the second week in a row that poor refereeing has dominated the headlines after a weekend of exciting match-ups. Over 90 frees were dished out across two games last weekend, Dublin v Wexford in Croke Park and Cork v Limerick in Pairc Ui Chaoimh, two games that on paper should have been absolute thrillers but failed to live up to expectation due to whistle-happy referees.
We are not here to condemn or admonish any referee, in particular, we all know their job is often a thankless one, but their influence in hurling has gotten to a stage where it is overshadowing our great game.
The last thing hurling needs is another card to complicate matters even further so the news that the motion to introduce a black card was strongly defeated was met with a sigh of relief. However, the weekend’s events prove that the standard of refereeing is on a downward trajectory and their individual interpretations of what warrants a card are far too varied.
Babs Keating was quoted as saying that if he had his way, there would be no cards in hurling. A typical ‘Babs’ statement but one to be taken with a pinch of salt. Hurling needs structure and discipline. Bad habits have always been in the game and continue to grow but trying to cut them out does not mean you inflict the harshest punishment for the first offence.
A serious conversation over the standard of refereeing needs to happen before the championship begins in May. Just like teams use the Allianz League to try out new players and experiment with different systems, let it act as a lesson for referees. At the end of the day, they are human and their job is often a thankless one. Let them make their mistakes during the league but now that they have been pointed out, they can’t be repeated during the summer or else the game will truly suffer.
Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy, who sat as the chairman of the National Hurling 2020 committee prior to his return to the Premier County, provided some much-needed sense to the whole conversation after his side’s win.
“We have enough cards in hurling. I think we saw it there today. There are yellows and reds and if they have to use them, they can.”
“I would say it’s a great game and it’s in a really good place and you see the level of competition and the conditioning of both sets of teams right throughout the league, every match we have played has been nip and tuck.
“Hurling is in the best place it has been in a long time, we certainly don’t need to be tinkering with the rules. We just need to get every child in the country playing it.”