Well-known whistler Martin McNally says that the GAA could take a leaf out of rugby’s book when it comes to respecting referees. Shaun Casey writes…
THE GAA held a national Respect the Referee Day last weekend to raise awareness of the respect and support that our match officials deserve.
Monaghan native Martin McNally, who took charge of the All-Ireland quarter-final between Derry and Clare earlier this season, believes it’s important for the GAA community to change its culture surrounding referees.
Not only to protect those already holding the whistle but to also encourage younger people to take the leap and head down the refereeing path.
“We do need to recruit because no different than managing a football team, every year you get a few lads that will step away from the panel,” said McNally. “Whether it’s retirement, traveling, injury or whatever the case may be.
“It’s no different to refereeing. Every year you’ll have a certain number of lads that will drift off for one reason or another but it’s a matter of being able to keep the numbers at a steady and high level to cover the games that’s required.
“Recruitment is a massive part of that. We need to foster a culture where new referees come into the game and are welcomed and get a good feeling and get a good experience of it.
“Lads don’t generally stop refereeing after four or five years. It’s after four or five months where they have a bad experience, and they walk away from it, and they never come back.”
McNally believes that the clubs around the country play a huge part in developing that culture change. “We need to make sure that we change what’s happening and in terms of referees, people have to remember that these referees are from a club.
“Most clubs have a referee so would you like your own club referee to be abused in another club? No, you wouldn’t, so why would you do it if another referee comes to your club?
“Larry McCarthy mentioned a culture change and that culture change needs to start. We as a GAA family need to call out these people when it happens.
“There’s not much point in standing in a stand or on a terrace and seeing this happening without calling it out or asking someone to stop it or apologise for it or tell them they’re out of order.
“We need to call out bad behaviour and make sure that it’s not tolerated within our own clubs and that’s the starting point.”
Recalling a rugby game he attended a few years ago, McNally pointed to the culture within rugby circles as the way forward for the GAA and how supporters can help to modify the mindset.
“You’re never going to get rid of it entirely, but we can definitely reduce it dramatically by people on the coalface being reprimanded for it,” continued McNally, who was part of a 16-man strong All-Ireland Championship referee panel in 2022.
“If you are a genuine GAA person and you’re sitting in the stand and someone is abusing an official, it’s up to us to stop it. We have a duty as GAA supporters and the GAA family to turn around to somebody abusing a match official and say stop, that’s not acceptable.
“I always remember a rugby game I was at between Connacht and Leinster in the Sportsgrounds in Galway about five years ago or so.
“I was in the stand and one particular Leinster supporter started having a go at the referee because he was from the province of Leinster, and he was referring them against Connacht.
“I’ll never forget it, about 20 people turned around and told him to be quiet. About 15 minutes later he went at it again and I remember the steward along the pitch turned round asked him to be quiet and if he wasn’t going to be quiet, there was a place outside on the main road for him and it wasn’t in the stadium.
“That’s the kind of calling out that goes on within that sport. I know they’re not immune from verbal abuse as well but it’s incidents like that, I’d like to see a culture started where people being are called out for and shown it’s not tolerated.
“Then year on year on year, it becomes the culture that we all want it to be, and that abuse is simply not tolerated.”
On the field, referees have the means to deal with abuse in the shape of black and red cards. But it’s in the stands and along the sideline that McNally sees most of the issues.
“Verbals from the sideline, we have the means of punishing that and be it be players or managers or mentors, we have a mechanism in which to deal with that and we have the relevant cards.
“We have black cards for remonstrating, we have red cards for abusive language so we have different tools that we can use on the field. But on a pitch, the verbal abuse on the actual pitch probably isn’t as bad as what comes from the sideline because players are in the zone.
“They know that we have the mechanism in which to deal with it and they know it’s not tolerated, and I think players are more aware of that. Even in their demeanours towards umpires and linesmen.
“We have the black card, and we have the red card. It’s up to players to hold themselves accountable but the players aren’t the worse culprits here and some of the incidents show that. It’s stuff from the sideline that has been the problem.”
Larry McCarthy’s impact has been huge in pushing for more respect towards referees and McNally believes that the GAA President will continue to aim for higher standards among the men in the middle.
“Since Larry McCarthy came in, he was quite clear, it’s not just because of the couple of controversial incidents that happened. Larry McCarthy came in at the very start and this was part of his plan during his presidency that respect for referees and standards and everything around officiating.
“Without being too dramatic about it, he wanted to up the standards and up what referees were doing.
“He’s a massive promoter of young referees and young officials and we’ve seen that right throughout the country and particularly at national level.
“In this year’s championship, myself included, there’s been a couple of new faces that have come into the mix in terms of refereeing All-Ireland quarter-finals and semi-finals. In terms of developing referees and where it’s at, he’s been quite clear on where that’s going.
“The ‘Referee’s Respect Day’ is just the first step on a journey of where we need to go in terms of respect for match officials and the education around how we treat our officials and what our officials do for our games. At the end of the day, without our officials we won’t have any games.”
McNally is in a somewhat unique position. He’s used to be the man making the decisions and sounding the whistle, but he’s also involved in a coaching capacity within his club Corduff, along with former inter county referee Pat McEnaney and ex-Monaghan boss Seamus McEnaney.
The trio helped their club to Intermediate Championship glory last weekend and McNally believes there has to be more of an understanding towards referees and that everyone involved in our games can make mistakes.
“We’re not infallible. I recently read a stat that most teams will give the ball away five or six times per half and they’ll probably concede four or five kick-outs, they’ll make numerous mistakes.
“So, by and large, taking two teams of 15 players each over 60 or 70 minutes, you’re roughly talking on average a mistake a minute from the players on the pitch.
“That’s roughly about 60 to 70 mistakes. And a referee is hammered if he makes one or two so I’m quite aware that nobody is infallible, the player that kicks the ball wide, he doesn’t mean to kick the ball wide.
“Likewise, the referee, if a referee makes a mistake, it’s a genuine mistake. The better the referee is performing, the more chance he has of getting better games and more high-profile games.
“Nobody goes out to put in a bad performance. I suppose for me, I’m a little bit more patient when it comes to that, and I would like to think that our players have bought into that culture as well.
“And with ‘Banty’ there as well, he’s coming in from an inter-county background where the standards are high. The standards are high in terms of everything we do, and discipline is one of them.
“Everybody knows in the modern game if you got to 14 men you stand a good chance of losing the game so it’s up to us that we’re disciplined in every way shape and form. I’m lucky that I’m able to have the view of both being on the sideline and being the man in the middle.
“It would help if people just remember that nobody is infallible, and the players make a lot more mistakes than a match official truth be told.”