Players urged to pick up the whistle
By Daire Walsh
CROKE Park was the venue yesterday afternoon, as the National Referee Committee launched their new GAA Referee recruitment scheme.
One of the key objectives of this new initiative is to encourage inter-county footballers and hurlers to get involved in refereeing after their player careers have come to an end.
Indeed, speaking at Wednesday’s launch, Pat McEnaney – the chairman of the National Referee Committee – revealed that one player has already expressed an interest in getting involved.
“We have one who has expressed an interest in particular, but we have to be fair to our association structure. We will be asking the counties to see if there are any of their former players who are interested,” he said.
However, while McEnaney, who officiated in four All-Ireland deciders during a memorable refereeing career, is satisfied with the spread of officials in football, he feels that there is a need for more hurling referees to step up to the mark.
“At national level, where we see the number of young football referees coming through and breaking through at provincial level, the numbers are greater than in hurling. That is understandable in a sense because you have more counties playing football than hurling.
“I think at the top level in hurling we have four or five really experienced referees, but have we got replacements for them is the question? At the moment there is a bit of a gap there. We need to have more volume to pick from.”
Initially, McEnaney and his committee had planned to kick-start this process 12 months ago, but the introduction of the black card in football placed it on the back burner.
Because of the impact the new playing rules were always likely to have for the association, he felt that it was necessary to hold back until this time.
“Recruitment needs a focus on its own. Mind you, the black card needed a focus on its own, and it still needs further focus. But the recruitment campaign needed to be standalone.
“I think what Pat [Patrick Doherty, National Match Officials Manager] has said with the Leinster referees last week – myself and himself – one of the things we were driving is the follow-up. It’s no good landing a group of people and giving them matches. What we want then is maybe three dates in the calendar. Maybe May, July, September, and bring them all back in and see ‘how we’re going here’.
“’What are the issues? What’s the problems? What’s support do you need?’ It’s that kind of arm around the shoulder. ‘What can we do to help you?’ That’s where we fail a bit. So let’s correct that this year.”
As has often been the case in the past, the subject of professional referees was another major topic of discussion. Although McEnaney is very much open to the idea of two referees in hurling, he doesn’t see the professional route becoming a viable option in the future.
“I think when you look at a five-year plan in the association, or even a 10-year plan. If you take a 10-year plan at the moment. What you do is, you look back on the history of the game.
“How the game has evolved over this past 10 years. There is going to be changes. What are those changes going to bring in ten years?
“No, I can’t see us being professional referees would be the straight answer to that.
“But that doesn’t say in 30 years’ time where our association is going to be. Will we have two hurling referees in ten years’ time? We may have, there will definitely come changes. Professional refereeing, no.”