zero tolerance needed | 

Pat Spillane: ‘Respect The Referee’ Day is just a PR stunt

“Biggest issue in GAA is failure to accept punishment and we need a complete disciplinary overhaul”

GAA president Larry McCarthy with referees, from left, David Coldrick, Colm Lyons, Thomas Gleeson and Sean Hurson at the launch of Respect The Referee Day at Croke Park. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Summerhill manager Conor Gillespie, right, and Ratoath manager David Brady shake hands after the Meath County SFC Final. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Shane Walsh of Kilmacud Crokes in action against Eoin Murchan of Na Fianna in the Dublin County Final. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

16 October 2022; Mark O'Connor of Dingle, left, and David Clifford of East Kerry during the Kerry County Senior Football Championship semi-final match between East Kerry and Dingle at Austin Stack Park in Tralee, Kerry. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

16 October 2022; Shane Walsh of Kilmacud Crokes in action against Eoin Murchan of Na Fianna during the Dublin County Senior Club Championship Football Final match between Kilmacud Crokes and Na Fianna at Parnell Park in Dublin. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Pat SpillaneSunday World

This is ‘Respect the Referee’ Day in the GAA.

A laudable initiative – if it results in referees being afforded more respect, it will have done its job.

The official launch had all the bells and whistles: a photo shoot in Croke Park, some of the top referees attended and, in his address, GAA President Larry McCarthy mentioned all the key buzz words.

Of course, I welcome the initiative. But the cynic in me can’t help thinking this is another box-ticking PR exercise.

I’m still at a loss to know what practical measures the GAA are taking to deal with the problem.

On Monday afternoon I got a call from the RTE Newsroom, inviting me to appear on the Six One News. Guess what the topic was? Violence in the GAA. Unfortunately, I wasn’t available.

There were, at least, two unsavoury incidents last weekend.

At a hurling blitz in Thurles a nine-year-old player was allegedly assaulted by a spectator. Then at the Meath County Football final opposing managers Conor Gillespie and David Brady had a much-publicised coming together near the end of the game.

And therein lies my problem: the Respect for the Referee campaign does nothing to address those two incidents, for example.

The campaign should be one element of an overall package, because acts of violence take many forms.

I repeat what I wrote a couple of weeks ago – one of the biggest issues in the GAA is the culture of not accepting punishment. We do the crime, but don’t want to do the time.

We rush to find a loophole – and, God knows, there are plenty of them in order to escape punishment.

Too often a blind eye is turned to blatant transgressions of the rules. We are all responsible – supporters, officials and players.

Until the GAA adopts a zero-tolerance policy at all levels, and sticks to it regardless of the consequences, then the problem will persist.

Of course, referees don’t get the respect they deserve. But, whisper it, match officials should not be allowed to be completely off the hook. They have to be made accountable for their decisions as well.

Listen, we all make mistakes. I watched the Donegal county final on television last weekend. I believe a player was sent-off in the wrong, and it possibly cost St Eunan’s the game.

Over the years I have witnessed incompetent referees in action. Some are appointed because they have friends in high places, others are clearly unfit and unable to keep up with the game.

Nine times out of ten, it is these matches that get out of hand. Match officials are part of the problem – and the solution.

Respect is a two-way street. It has to be earned. A happy-clappy initiative such as Respect for Referees only glosses over the problem.

Summerhill manager Conor Gillespie, right, and Ratoath manager David Brady shake hands after the Meath County SFC Final. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

A complete change of mindset is required, beginning with an overhaul of how the GAA deal with disciplinary issues at inter-county and club level – particularly the latter.

Writing about clubs reminds me I have come in for some criticism for not commenting on the ongoing club championships.

Perish the thought. Anyway, I’m going to correct that alleged slight today.

To be perfectly honest, between tuning into live games on RTE and TG4 and watching other games which were streamed, I reckon I’ve probably seen a record number of club fixtures this year.

It’s a bit of a mixed bag. There is no denying the atmosphere and colour county finals generate.

There have been some notable achievements, such as Ballyhale Shamrocks becoming the first club in Kilkenny to win five county hurling titles in a row, or Tourlestrane doing seven in a row in football in Sligo.

And, of course, there are the romantic stories of teams achieving the big breakthrough after years in the wilderness, or some 40-plus player finally picking up a championship medal after a lifetime of service to his club.

As for the standard of football? Well, with the odd exception, it has been universally brutal.

The majority of the matches I have watched have been of very poor quality.

All the ills of the county game have spread to club football. Too many teams ‘park the bus,’ build-ups are slow and ponderous, with the attacking team constantly recycling the ball back across the halfway line.

This is compounded by the fact that at club level overall standards are lower than at inter-county level.

So everything happens at a slower pace, resulting in games being even more unappealing to watch on TV.

The Kerry County Board gave RTE the green light to transmit their semi-final between Feale Rangers and Mid-Kerry. Unfortunately, it turned one to be one of the worst games in the series.

Mid-Kerry led 0-11 to 0-2 at the break – in fact, the contest was well over before then.

Bizarrely, despite having no county players and being total underdogs, Feale Rangers opted to play against a gale-force wind in the first half.

I wasn’t in the least surprised about the quality of the game.

I have been watching Kerry County Championship games for over 50 years. In my humble opinion, the standard this year is the lowest ever.

Shane Walsh of Kilmacud Crokes in action against Eoin Murchan of Na Fianna in the Dublin County Final. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Granted the East Kerry v Dingle semi-final was slightly better. It was interesting, if only for revealing that David Clifford is human after all.

He failed to score from play and kicked a few wides.

Another thing which has struck me watching the club championship is how tired the inter-county players look.

The split season was supposed to be manna from heaven for them. Obviously, I’m missing something.

The most charitable thing to say about the Donegal final between Naomh Conaill and St Eunan’s was that it was very ‘Donegal-like’.

Granted the conditions were atrocious and the sending off didn’t help.

But the contest revolved around keeping possession and defending.

The half-time score of 1-3 to 0-4 tells its own story.

The word is St Eunan’s manager Rory Kavanagh is the front-runner for the vacant position as Donegal manager.

The way Eunan’s were set up in the first half, when they had wind advantage, does not augur well for Donegal if he does get the job.

By far the best club championship has been in Dublin.

Granted one could quibble with the standard at times – but in terms of pace, physicality and tactics, it has been head and shoulders above the rest.

It was worth the admission price alone to witness Shane Walsh’s performance for Kilmacud Crokes last Sunday. He was a giant among men.

What I detested though was the constant booing every time he was on the ball and the non-stop sledging.

Why didn’t Na Fianna win? Very simple really – they converted ten of the 24 chances they created.

Today is a red-letter day for my beloved Templenoe who contest the Kerry club final for the first time against Kerins O’Rahillys, powered by David Moran and Tommy Walsh.

For one of the smallest clubs in Kerry, based in one of the least populated parts of the county, to be one win away from representing Kerry in the provincial and All-Ireland Club Championship is a momentous achievement.

What’s even more bonkers, however, is the curtain-raiser: a relegation play-off between last year’s county champions Austin Stacks and Kenmare Shamrocks, who have Kerry All-Ireland winners Seanie O’Shea and Stephen O’Brien on board.

The losers will play in the Kerry Intermediate Club Championship next season. Mark them down as favourites for the 2023 All-Ireland Intermediate Club title already.

The whole episode provides fuel to critics who argue that Kerry clubs have an unfair advantage in the All-Ireland series.

The bottom line is that Kerry should have 12 instead of eight senior clubs.

Lack of seeding is a positive in provincial draws

I met a GAA fanatic in the local shop last Sunday morning.

Naturally, I asked him what he thought about the 2023 provincial championship draws. He hadn’t a clue what I was on about.

His attitude summed up the grass-roots reaction to the draw.

At a time when the GAA needs every bit of positive publicity, it was remiss of them to allow the draws to take place on a Saturday afternoon on radio.

Surely, they could do better than that.

The usual critics have been out in force since, lambasting the lopsided nature of the Connacht draw in particular.

They are all singing off the same hymn sheet: the stronger teams ought to be seeded to ensure they feature at the business end of the All-Ireland series.

Maybe I’m biased, because I have a connection with a so-called weaker county.

My response to the criticism is why should the GAA ape what’s going on in the wider society, where the strong become stronger – and the weak are getting weaker all the time.

I believe Leitrim, Sligo, London and New York have as much right as Galway, Mayo and Roscommon to compete in the Sam Maguire championship.

Critics say they are worried there will be one-sided games in the All-Ireland series, with these minnows being hammered. One-sided games are not the preserve of the so-called weak counties.

This summer Armagh beat Donegal by ten points in the All-Ireland qualifiers; Derry beat Clare in the quarter-final by 15 points – remember they’re both Division 2 teams.

May I remind Sean Cavanagh and others who like to sneer at the Munster Championship that three counties from the province (Kerry, Cork and Clare) reached the last eight of the All-Ireland series this year.

A fourth, Tipperary, contested the All-Ireland semi-final in 2020. Not a bad record, I would suggest.

The Ulster Championship is not immune to one-sided contests.

This year Monaghan beat Down by ten points, while Cavan thrashed Antrim by 13.

There is no denying the fact the draw threw up interesting anomalies.

A Division 4 team, or better still New York who do not field a team in the league, will feature in the Connacht final – and, at worst, will be second seeds in the new-look Sam Maguire round-robin series.

Unless Cork or Clare are promoted to the top flight, one of the Munster finalists will be a non-Division One team. Likewise in Leinster, unless Meath or Louth are promoted from Division 2.

Only in Ulster it is likely, though not guaranteed, that two Division 1 teams will clash in the final.

The bottom line is that the new format favours the traditional big guns – Kerry and Dublin.

Assuming Dublin are promoted, and Kerry keep their place in the top flight, they will be assured of a place in the All-Ireland series, regardless of how they fare in their respective provincial championships – even though both are overwhelming favourites to win them.

In contrast, for the leading Sam Maguire contenders in Ulster and Connacht, the Allianz League assumes even more significance, because they cannot depend on qualifying for the All-Ireland matches via the provincial system.

Wait until all this reality dawns on the fans next spring.

The Sunday Game will need a specialist to explain all the permutations to the viewers.

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