Below-par referees should be removed from national panel
C ONOR GLEESON was one of the first people I noticed as I surveyed the scene from the press box after arriving in Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday.
There was still over an hour to go before throw-in and the former Tipperary midfielder, a Garda by profession, was having a chat with a local member of the force, Declan Dennehy, on the edge of the pitch.
I immediately thought back to the 1997 All-Ireland semi-final and one 'challenge' in particular Gleeson made on Rory McCarthy who was on the receiving end of special attention from a few opponents in that first-half. He was forced off through injury at the interval and our dream of retaining the crown faded.
Those days of being serious contenders are long gone, but after allowing my memory to wander I was drawn swiftly back to the present as I asked myself an obvious question: why had Johnny Ryan been appointed to referee our game against Offaly when Gleeson, his club colleague from Boherlahan-Dualla, is the coach of the opposing team? The G.A.A. shouldn't have put him in that position.
And it didn't end there. Even though team manager Eamonn Kelly is a Tipp. man too, hailing from Kiladangan, there was another official appointed from the county in the form of linesman John O'Brien from Arravale Rovers.
The fact that the latter is given any sort of a job at all at this stage is beyond me. He was the referee who couldn't keep track of the score in the first Christy Ring Cup final between Meath and Antrim, but that hasn't stopped him being in demand since.
Indeed, just seven days after that debacle, he also ran the line for the Leinster Senior semi-final between Kilkenny and Dublin in Portlaoise.
I have a fundamental problem with the manner in which match officials are treated within the G.A.A. If it was down to me, O'Brien would have received a letter after that counting farce in Croke Park thanking him for his services, but informing him that he has been dropped off the inter-county panel for the rest of the year given the magnitude of his error.
Likewise, I would be penning similar words to Johnny Ryan after the injustice meted out to Wexford in the first-half on Saturday.
It shouldn't be swept under the carpet just because we won handsomely in the end and the failure to award a perfectly legitimate goal didn't make a difference.
We hear so much about the 'give respect, get respect' motto in the G.A.A., and we are constantly told that without referees there would be no games. That's a blindingly obvious statement, but that shouldn't give them carte blanche to make downright unfair decisions and not pay any discernible price.
Respect is a two-way street, and there was absolutely none shown to Mark Fanning on Saturday by the referee or his two umpires at the Clonard end. The goalkeeper had worked hard to earn his place back on the team after being dropped for the Dublin game, and to see his goal not awarded was an insult.
We all know how it works: a player will be dropped after a poor performance, while a manager essentially lives or dies on the strength of his team's results and is often only one bad loss or two away from getting the boot.
Yet, there appears to be no sanction of any sort for referees when they breach the association's own playing rules into how legitimate scores are awarded and recorded.
I accept that minor mistakes will be made and that's understandable in the course of any fast-moving game, but what happened in Innovate Wexford Park was on an entirely different level, like the Croke Park scoring cock-up.
Offaly led by two points at half-time, so one can only imagine the chaotic scenes if the incident had occurred in the second period and there was a similar margin at the finish.
The G.A.A. dodged a bullet but will they react to it and learn from it? They just don't get it, do they? The more referees are protected rather than sanctioned after big mistakes, the greater the likelihood of similar errors being made over and over again. After all, if there's no punishment, it places the men with the whistle on an untouchable and undeserved pedestal.