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We need the Gaelic Referees’ Association to stand up and take action

Not surprisingly, there is a nationwide scarcity of referees.

Roscommon referee Kevin Naughton lies unconscious after being allegedly attacked during an U-17 football match in Ballyforan.

Sean McGoldrickSunday World

ON a November morning 37 years ago I answered the phone on the sports desk of the Irish Press.

The unidentified caller informed me that after an Under U-21 final the previous day in Wicklow the match referee had been bundled into the boot of his car by angry fans and driven away.

A couple of hours later the story was the splash lead on the front page of the city edition of the Evening Press.

Thankfully, Johnny Price survived the terrifying ordeal and continued his involvement in the GAA until his untimely death at the age of 64 in 2005.

At the time, the GAA promised a clampdown on the abuse of referees and if memory serves me right, the culprits were identified and punished.

But sadly, the change in culture has never arrived.

Granted, the number of physical assaults on referees is miniscule in the context of the number of games played.

But the recent incident in Roscommon, when a referee ended up being taken by ambulance to hospital, underlines the challenge the organisation faces.

Talk is cheap and the sad reality is that the GAA as an organisation has never had the intestinal fortitude to deal with the verbal and occasional physical abuse meted out to their officials.

Not surprisingly, there is a nationwide scarcity of referees. Has it ever dawned on those who abuse officials that there would be no football or hurling if there were no referees.

Frankly nothing will change – unless the men in the middle (thankfully females are now joining their ranks) take action themselves.

They have the power to stop the whole show as they demonstrated in Roscommon when they downed whistles for a weekend in solidarity with their colleague.

What is needed is a Gaelic Referees’ Association which is prepared to stand up and take action.

What if the GRA announced that unless a special Congress was called before Christmas, at which motions to deal with disciplinary issues were passed, they would not be resuming their duties in 2023.

This would concentrate the minds of all GAA members who might finally accept that appealing bans on spurious technical grounds should be outlawed; that maximum rather than minimum bans ought to be the norm and players who question refereeing decisions should be red carded with no exceptions.

Rugby is a far more physical game than either Gaelic football and hurling yet, with the exception of the team captain, rugby players never speak to the referee during a game.

There is absolutely no reason why the same rules should not apply in Gaelic Games.

As for team mentors, as soon as they question the referee they should be dispatched either to the stand or outside the wire. And repeat offenders need to be left outside indefinitely.

Of course, there would be outrage to begin with. But as long as the GAA and the referees hold their nerve the new rules would become the norm.

Nobody ever imagined Irish society would tolerate no-smoking bars. Yet nowadays it is the norm.

The GAA needs the equivalent of the smoking ban. But only referees can force them down this road.

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