Fermanagh official downs whistle due to Covid concerns

EXPERIENCED Ederney official Eugene McDonagh has been a referee for 15 years. But this week he walked away from the game he loves so much because of his concerns around Covid-19 and the way it is being dealt with by the GAA.

It is really a sad day for me,” he said. “My intention was to finish at the end of the year, so it has brought my retirement forward.”

Early on in June the ‘Return to Play’ protocol, or recommendations, were set out and it was for club, players and club officials, no mention of referees.

I approached their representative in Fermanagh because I was alarmed that there was no reference to the referees. Everybody else seemed to be covered except for the referees.

Eventually at the end of June I got a reply which dealt with the new rules and fitness to bring referees up to speed with the new rules and get their fitness levels up.

I looked for further clarification and got an email back from an Ulster representative. It dealt with some of the fears that I had with regard to referees and the games.”

However, McDonagh didn’t think that the answers he received were sufficient.

At that stage I spoke to the representative in Fermanagh and indicated that if nothing more concrete came through that I would be stepping away. A week later I did make that decision to walk away from refereeing.

My concerns were that the onus was on the referee to make sure of the safety of players during a game and I think that it is nearly impossible for the referee to social distance himself from players during a game. It’s impossible.

Their reference they said was ‘use your common sense’ but players are players and they will come closer to you than they should under these circumstances and when I questioned that the answer was ‘it is a black card offence.’

But for me if a player or management comes within your space during a game you should have the ability to red card them straight away because, no matter how small, he is a danger to you at that time. There is a threat there.”

Another concern was that for the first four weeks of the year referees are expected to turn up at the ground without the use of changing facilities.

The message of Covid-19 is hygiene, wash your hands.

The facility to wash your hands before, during and after a game isn’t there. Toilets were mentioned, but public toilets within grounds are used by everybody so that is a non-starter,”

He also has other concerns about the game, especially when championship time comes around.

There is this notion that you are to get your four umpires to the games,” said McDonagh. “That they travel themselves.

In the current climate I wouldn’t ask four people to turn up to a ground on their own steam when there is no recompense for it, and also I wouldn’t put them in danger.

I wouldn’t ask them to be in an environment where they can come in contact with certain personnel or players that may infect them.

Before this the referee travelled to the game with his four umpires and the referee got his match fee and the umpires got a thank-you.”

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