GAA Referees working hard to get back up to speed
By John Harrington
Just like players, referees are doing all they can to ensure they’re as best prepared as possible a return to action.
According to the GAA’s National Match Officials Manager, Donal Smyth, significant work has been done behind the scenes to get referees back up to speed.
“Since Covid -19 kicked in, for most referees it's 20 weeks since we've refereed you know, and even I as a club referee, (I know) it's going to be difficult getting back to it,” says Smyth.
“For club referees we actually sent out a video that every club referee should have got last week and that contained mental health advice, advice in relation to how to get back up the fitness, and the pathway going forward.
“This week we'll be sending out a video for hurling and football. Two separate videos that will allow them look at their new rules as part of an in-service that they can get up to date on the rules, up to date on some of the stuff for going forward in relation to the new rules.
“It'll be like their in-service they did, but it will be done with a video that they can download themselves and they can watch it back at any stage.
“They should ensure that the Referee's Administrator gets that out to them this week or especially next week before competitive games start because all the new rules are explained and it'll help them get back into thinking about the game.”
One of the challenges for referees returning to officiating Gaelic Football will be applying the new rules that came into law at Congress 2020.
“In the last eight months we've have a real change,” says Smyth. “We've had the new kick out rule we've had an advance mark and all those things were played in the National League.
“But since Congress 2020 we got two more rules. We got the one in relation to the kick out. The ball cannot be kicked back directly to the goalkeeper. And it's specific about the goalkeeper. A free is given from where the goalkeeper kicks the ball.
“The other thing is there's a slight change in the advance mark. In the
advance mark now, if the advance mark is taken inside the large or small rectangle and the player claims the mark he goes back out the 13 metre line.
“But, in that circumstance, if he decides to play on he can be tackled immediately. Whereas outside the large rectangle he has his four steps.
“So it's very important to say that in the large rectangle or in the small rectangle, that if he decides to play on he can be tackled immediately without penalty to the defender.
“We will be getting the information out regarding the new rules on YouTube videos to county boards and to all clubs so that will be going as well.
“It's difficult. No more than playing, refereeing is a skill that you know you can you roll into it. At Christmas we usually get about eight weeks of break, now we we're at fifteen or sixteen weeks so it's going to be difficult for fellas to get back up to speed again.
“But refereeing is a learned skill you're gonna have to acquire it again and take your time and you know take your time making decisions and we'll get them right.
“The rulebook is there and it's always available and, you know, fellas should be keeping themselves up to date on the rules.”
Just like players and mentors, referees must also fill out a Covid-19 health questionnaire and complete an online education module before they return to action.
And, as Donal Smyth explains, they must also follow certain guidelines they have been issued with that are designed to keep them and their fellow match officials safe.
“Every referees administrator has been informed of the guidelines and county boards, so every club referee in the country should have got those links now with the information explaining what to do in a game in certain circumstances," says Smyth.
It's about keeping safe. It is the responsibility of referee to keep them safe, the other match officials, they have their umpire with them as well, they have their sideline officials. So the referee is very important.
“As I say, he's the captain of his team but he should ensure also that the guidelines are followed. Just simple things like players shouldn't be getting too close. Try to keep your distance when you're dealing with players. They're the simple things at the moment.
“But the most important thing for a referee before he referees is he has to do his education module online and he has to be certified which he should send to the Referees Administrator.
“He has to do his health questionnaire online as well as part of the referees pool and that will automatically go to the Referees Administrator who's the Covid Administrator and then the guidelines which he can print out and he could bring to a game to keep himself safe and the people he's with safe during the game.”