Joe Brolly

JOE BROLLY: David Coldrick and the bleep test

DAVID Coldrick, one of our two best referees (the other being David Gough), has been dropped from the panel for the upcoming championship after “failing the referees’ fitness test.” Croke Park sources have revealed that the referee, who went into the test with a “muscle strain”, failed because he didn’t reach the line in time during the last shuttle run of the bleep test.

Amazingly, even though he was nursing a muscle strain, the same sources have confirmed that he will not get another chance, even though he is one of the fittest referees in the elite panel.

Which is an awful punch in the mouth for a volunteer who has given much of his adult life to the game and who could have taken the fitness test again any time in the next few weeks when he was fully healed.

Supporters often treat our referees like shit. It is shocking indeed to see the authorities doing so. It must be causing a lot of anger and frustration among our elite refereeing panel who are surely entitled to be treated with some basic human dignity.

Failing the bleep test has never been a disqualification for playing at the highest level. The Bomber Liston famously ate two ice cream wafers after every training session. I met the woman who used to serve them to him and she said he popped them into his mouth like a pair of polo mints.

My favourite bleep test story was told once at a tribute night to Peter Withnell, “The forgotten man of Down football” who everybody remembers.

He was a superb soccer player and a fearsome striker with Cliftonville, Ballymena and Dundalk. This was a problem because McGrath disliked soccer and had banned the boys from playing it. The ban on foreign sports was not lifted in the Kingdom of Mourne.

Just before a league game with us at Celtic Park in the early 90s, McGrath called Peter out of the dressing room.

Q. Peter, you were playing soccer for Cliftonville yesterday.

A. I wasn’t.

Q. You played for Cliftonville yesterday.

A. I wasn’t. Are you calling me a liar?

Q. Peter, you scored a goal yesterday for Cliftonville.

A. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

(McGrath takes out a copy of the Sunday World and shows him a photo of himself celebrating the winning goal)

A. That’s not me.

Ross Carr, who had been called out to witness the interrogation, says that Withnell was so convincing that McGrath backed off and Peter played the game. Withnell used to drive McGrath mad at training by heading the ball to the net during training games, then sinking onto one knee and doing the trademark soccer fist pump celebration.

When Withnell showed me it, teeth gritted and glaring at the fans, I nearly fell off the chair.

Eventually, McGrath actually went to a soccer match and caught him red-handed, intercepting him as he came off the pitch.

McGrath dropped his full-forward, but it soon became apparent they needed him back.

So, a month before the ‘93 championship first round against us, McGrath swallowed his pride and called him, and Withnell agreed to return “so long as there’s no more old shite about soccer.”

So the next night, he made his way to St Colman’s College where the team had gathered for a bleep test.

Withnell, who had a terrific physique, arrived when the others were already there, wearing a white tracksuit top, looking like Captain America.

The test began and as the boys dropped out one by one, Withnell powered on and on.

For the last few minutes he was all on his own, getting faster and faster as the bleeps sped up.

In the end, he suddenly pulled up, strolled towards the exit door and shouted over his shoulder “Pete, don’t be wasting my time. Give me a shout when them men are fit.”

Perhaps he could come out of retirement for a second time and do a few sessions with the referees?

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