By Michael McMullan
MONAGHAN referee Martin McNally insists everyone in the GAA community has a role to play to eradicate any form of abuse towards officials and help clean up the game as a whole.
The Corduff man also believes incidents like the one that saw Roscommon official Kevin Naughton knocked to the ground while officiating at an underage game are in the minority.
McNally took up the whistle in 2011 when a lingering injury ended his playing career and club stalwart Pat McNally (no relation) cajoled him into attending a referees’ course.
Within 12 months he “got serious” about it, was brought into the National League panel in 2014 before getting the championship call four years later.
“Because of my age profile, I was fast tracked through the system,” McNally said. “The longer it went on, the more it grew on me and the more exposure to games I got, the more I liked it.”
He is also assistant manager of his club senior team with former Monaghan manager Seamus McEnaney and his brother Pat, a former All-Ireland final referee.
“I am a person who has worn many hats,” McNally said. “I wear the hat of being a referee, so I know what it is like. We all need to step up to the plate and we all have a role to play here.
“When you wear another of different hats, you get your eyes opened that certain things fit and certain things don’t fit.”
McNally said his initial disbelief turned to disgust when he learned of last week’s incident in Roscommon that hit the headlines and led to referees in the county going on strike in support of Naughton.
“We are all passionate about the GAA; it is the lifeblood of our community and we don’t want to see incidents like that,” McNally said. “It was very unfortunate that happened and is something we don’t want associated with our games, full stop.”
While not privy to the inner workings of the Roscommon referee community, McNally feels last weekend’s strike made people sit up and take notice of the level of respect referees deserve, and echoed the sentiment of there being no games without officials.
“I don’t think there was a GAA person that didn’t support them,” McNally said. “I think the referees in Roscommon, in time, will be the stronger for it.
“It is not always a popular decision, but sometimes you have to make the hard cards and referees are used to making the hard calls. That was a hard call to make and they did.”
McNally’s enjoyment of being a referee, a role seen by many as the toughest within the confines of sport, comes from the “privilege” of facilitating at big games at county, provincial and national level.
“I never intended going to where I am at the minute when I set out. I didn’t even think I would stay at it,” he said, equating the level of preparation to that of a player.
“The other bit I love is that I am doing it with friends. The lads that are umpiring with me are lads I have all played with, they are from my own club and some of them are still playing.
“We know what it is like to want a good job so therefore we try to deliver the best possible performance we can collectively when we go out to do a job.”
McNally said that physical abuse is “in the minority”, but verbal attacks are “more prevalent” as they can come from anywhere and anyone at a ground.
He feels that in the main there isn’t the same level of abuse from players and managers as there was in the past.
“Even at club level, there has been a lot of tightening of the belt on that end of things,” McNally said. “You will always get the person who will fire the abuse from the stand or, like it is now, with the social media end of things where people will have a cut an individual from the keypad on their phone.”
He said of the tendency to jump on incidents when they come under the microscope but little is said about the vast majority of games passing without incident.
“Thankfully the incidents are in the minority and if we can eradicate them altogether, that’s where we want to go.”
McNally agrees on a consistent approach to any potential incidents occurring in the future and a deterrent must be put in place, with prevention always better than cure.
He acknowledges the different temperament needed to be a referee, a coach or a manager and that the right coaches must be placed in charge of teams.
“Management isn’t just down to the fundamentals of the game,” McNally said. “It is down to how you control yourself on the pitch, how your demeanour is to your teammates, your opposition and the referee, they are things we could look at and definitely improve on.”
If those at the coal face are dealing with a referee they feel has made a poor decision, proper direct communication doesn’t have to come in the form of abuse.
McNally states there is always a line of communication and players deserve to be given an answer to any query over a decision given against them.
“I have been there and I know what it is like, they are entitled to an answer,” he said, stating a referee is the “biggest educator” during a match.
“They (players) are entitled to ask, albeit as long as everything is done in the correct demeanour. Players and managers can learn from referees and referees can learn from players and managers, it’s a two-way street.”
In the long term, it’s about implementing the respect for officials from an early age and McNally feels the Cumann na mBunscol infrastructure and competitions like the MacRory Cup are ready-made environments for change.
Literature around respect for officials could be fed into primary schools and incorporated into homework activities.
For McNally, it’s a long-term project to create a culture that can be brought up through the ranks.
“I think we need to start down as low as the nurseries in our clubs and counties,” he said. “It’s about getting the right coaches go into place to implement the respect towards officials and the values in the GAA.
“One of the competitions I love the most in the MacRory Cup. The players there are well disciplined and are coached by some of the top players in the country, Sean Marty Lockhart, Peter Canavan, Kieran Donnelly, guys at the top level.
“There is a bit of the school element in it, in a sense that you are representing your school and that you have to have discipline and that you are carrying the jersey of the school.”
Another situation is the role of referee at club game, like the one last week in Roscommon, where a team of officials won’t be in tow, but McNally feels that’s where clubs must show leadership.
“Maybe it is because we have a number of referees in our own club, we do make a genuine effort to make sure a referee has everything when they come to the ground,” he said, listing anything from pointing them to dressing rooms, issuing umpire coats and the offer of an extra umpire or two if needed.
“Every club has a referee and you have to think how you would like your referee treated. That’s where we need to get to, clubs need to support them rather than have a cut at them.”