Brendan Shaw (Secretary), Sean Sheridan (Referee's Coordinator), Patrick Doherty (Head of Operations), Frank Mescall (Chairman), Joe Daly (Leinster Council) and Tom Hunt (Central Council) at this year's GAA Congress, where new rules on discipline were introduced.

Crisis looming if indiscipline is not tackled warns secretary

Westmeath County Committee Secretary Brendan Shaw said Westmeath GAA has reached a precipice with regard to indiscipline at games and encouraged all clubs to address the problem before a crisis situation is reached.

Mr Shaw was speaking during a discussion on referees and discipline at last week’s County Committee meeting.

Chairman Frank Mescall called on all 47 clubs to provide at least one referee and Westmeath will look at a range of penalties for clubs who don’t meet the requirement, including forfeiture of home games, or no All-Ireland tickets. Fines could also be imposed.

“These are all in operation in other counties if a club doesn't have a referee,” he said.

The response to Referees Coordinator Sean Sheridan’s calls for new referees have consistently fallen on deaf ears, the chairman noted.

Joe Malone of St Mary’s, Rochfortbridge felt some of the young referees who quit did so because of abuse and Mr Mescall admitted it’s a huge issue.

“They (referees) are seen as fair game, sadly. Talking to our camogie and ladies football, it may be worse if anything, judging by the stories coming: the behaviour last year from mentors and supporters on the sideline is shocking,” remarked Mr Mescall.

Frank Martin (Tyrrellspass) felt it wouldn’t be fair to penalise clubs if no one is willing to referee.

Imposing penalties would be a wrong approach and people who have quit refereeing should be asked back, he felt. Mr Mescall said clubs must be responsible for this.

He noted there are five referees over 70 years of age on duty to get games played in Westmeath.

“You will be complaining if there is no referee there for your game. So, it’s up to the club, really,” said Mr Mescall.

Tommy O’Reilly (Ballynacargy) agreed one referee from each club is a fair requirement, while Barry Kelly (Coiste na nÓg Chairman) explained that there is a shortage of referees for games and because of the age profile of referees, in five years time there will be a massive problem.

On paper, there seems to be an adequate number, but the reality is different: only 18 hurling referees are active while 31 football referees are available.

“Things are exacerbated by the LGFA who run a huge programme of matches with no female referees,” he said.

The clubs get a lot of notice and LGFA referees can be booked well in advance, leaving the men's game with no referee. He noted camogie is growing also.

“John Joe Brady, Jimmy Weldon and Mick Gordon are refereeing more matches now than ever, and this is John Joe Brady’s 58th year refereeing,” Mr Kelly remarked.

Dermot Broughan called for more camogie referees, but Mr Mescall said there needs to be a unified approach.

John O’Meara (Tubberclair) said the elephant in the room is abuse. He said it’s a massive deterrent for young people and all clubs must accept responsibility.

“We’re all guilty; we need to get that out of our game. That’s why these lads are going to referee ladies games; it’s less hassle, less abuse, less shouting and roaring. I’m sure of that: we need four things, two teams, a referee and a ball to play. Unless we have the main link, a referee, none of that can happen,” he said.

“We have to nip it in the bud. We all have lunatics, every club: we could have some of them in the room! People who shout and roar at referees and think it’s acceptable. It’s not. We need to grow up as a group and say, ‘cut that out lads’. And then we can ask our young people (to take up refereeing). Because they will tell you where to go - we are wasting our time trying to encourage gasúns.”

Vinny Cox, Rosemount, a new referee this year, said you would need to be “off your rocker” as a young person to take up the role of refereeing, suggesting no matter what decision you make as a referee, you’re open to abuse. He said the LGFA are better organised and games are easier to referee.

“You’d need psychological help after a game,” he remarked, recounting how mentors shout and abuse for everything, even when they are considerable distances from an incident.

“My first perspective of it, you just couldn’t be right! I did the LGFA course as well and it was so interactive, it was great. I have been rang about games in two weeks' time and the girls game - there’s no contact in it, you’re just standing there. I can understand why someone would say I’m doing the LGFA, it’s easier!” he remarked.

Don’t defend someone who does wrong

Mr Mescall said penalising clubs is not the preferred option and they will leave it off for another year, but it has reached the stage where penalties will have to be introduced. Joe Potter of Lough Lene Gaels wondered what could be said to young people when trying to recruit them to referee.

Barry Kelly, former All-Ireland hurling referee, said that it remains a very enjoyable role, helping people to stay fit and stay involved. He accepted that a certain level of resilience is needed as there is zero tolerance for any mistakes a referee makes. People who are finishing playing are in the best position to be approached in an effort to recruit, he felt, before asking clubs to rid themselves of those who abuse referees at game.

“There are very few players who cause you grief - it’s the sideline,” he said, encouraging clubs to order people who abuse referees to stay away from games. “They are no good to you,” he noted.

Mr Mescall said not everyone is geared for coaching or administration and for these people, refereeing may be an option.

Michael Mannion felt clubs could approach young students in transition year and get them trained as referees.

Mr Mescall called on clubs to stop defending those who show no regard for discipline.

“Why should we (defend them)? If somebody does wrong, they do wrong: why back them up? Be they young, be they old. What message are you sending out as a club? The clubs have to take ownership of this, big time,” he said.

He reminded clubs that referees have to be supported and the Hearings Committee are the only ones who can impose penalties. The missing link in the disciplinary process is the club, he suggested, supporting Mr Kelly’s view that clubs need to “have a word” with those who abuse referees.

“They’re dragging your club down,” he remarked.

Mr Kelly said if people spoke to players in the same manner, or as aggressively, as they speak to referees, they’d have no team.

Central Council Delegate, Tom Hunt reminded clubs that penalties are now more severe for abusing referees.