Waiting for the whistle to go
By Kevin Egan
It’s not just footballers and hurlers who’ve had to deal with the shifting sands of changing government guidelines and restrictions over the past three months. The GAA’s refereeing community has also been on standby, making sure they’re ready to spring into action relatively quickly, while at the same time having to shift their training plans to suit the evolving situation with regard to Covid-19.
Usually at this stage of the year, the National Leagues are winding down and the national panel of referees have completed a busy spring season, fully fit and hoping to secure their place on the national panel for the big championship days that are to come.
That’s all changed this year, as Galway referee and Games Promotion Officer Liam Gordon can testify.
“Aidan Brady, who works with Niall Moyna in DCU, lays out our plans and fitness work. Last year we had an 11-week programme leading into the championship in the Autumn, and this January we had another five-week programme that was supposed to take us up to fitness tests in mid-February” said the Killimor club man.
“Obviously Covid didn’t allow that to happen, so we’ve been working away by ourselves. It’s tough going, I’m lucky to have Portumna Forest here in my doorstep which is ideal for the endurance work, but you would miss the social aspect of it.
As this is now effectively pre-season for intercounty referees and players alike, this is also the time where referees would meet up to review any rule changes or learnings from the year gone by. There has been some of this facilitated online by Donal Smyth (National Match Officials manager), but Gordon misses the in-person element and looks forward to some form of this in the near future to try and tackle what will be a significant development in the world of hurling.
“I’d be hugely in favour of the new HIA (Head Injury Assessment) and Maor Foirne rules, I think they’re very positive, as is the yellow and red cards for members of management. But the big change will be the advent of the sin bin. Donal will be putting some footage online for us all to go through, and I hope we get to meet up in some form to go through it as a group, whether that’s in provincial pods or whatever.
“I’ve been looking back at some games and assessing whether certain situations would have warranted a sin bin or not, but these guidelines will be clarified and passed down before championship starts, and collaborating on that really helps in that regard.
Looking further down the road, Gordon is eager for the day to return when the noise of a passionate crowd is once again a factor in games.
“Whether it’s the biggest games of the year in Croke Park and Semple Stadium, or just a full house in Athenry or Duggan Park for a Galway club game, I love that atmosphere. Referees differ of course and some are enjoying the relative silence, but when I think of what it was like to be the fourth official at the 2019 All-Ireland final, and the incredible atmosphere of Croke Park that day, and you just think to yourself, no different to players, these are the days you live for.