The drama and excitement experienced in Semple Stadium two weeks ago will live long in the memory. That was particularly the case during the concluding stage of normal time in both games. It was very much in keeping with one of the best hurling championship seasons ever.
But not everything about the games was exciting. I am reluctant to criticise referees but the performances of the two officials and indeed some of their colleagues was disappointing. That is not just my view. Various sections of the national media mentioned a variety of incidents in both games putting the spotlight, once again, on refereeing performances.
We are well aware of the incidents last year in which Michael Rice and T.J. Reid received bad injuries. The chairman of the National Referees body, Pat McEneaney rightly criticised the performances of some hurling officials and clearly indicated that a stiffer approach would be taken this year.
Most referees have adopted a tougher stance, but the new policy is not being applied consistently, leading to frustration among officials, players and supporters. I am not aware of the current policy to train match officials or to review their on-going performances.
In the past referees came together monthly to review and assess performances. These sessions involved much critical debate with the process principally aimed at agreeing a common approach to dealing with match incidents. Referees were also coached in how to handle a tense match situation with the training being delivered by professionals with expertise in such matters.
Almost every championship game now is played at a frenetic pace with lots of intensity. So not alone has the referee to handle the technical aspects of the game, he also has to cope with the psychology applied by the teams and their mentors.
It is not an easy task, but some of the difficulties which referees experience can often be down to their inability to communicate with players. Many readers will be familiar with the refereeing careers of the late John Moloney, Tipperary and former Wexford official Dickie Murphy.
Both refereed at the top level in hurling and were regarded as two of the best. What made them stand out was their ability to communicate decisions to the players
The players didn’t always agreed with Moloney or Murphy, but both had a great way of explaining their decision while at the same time maintaining a firm grip on proceedings. Few inter-county referees nowadays appear to have the same skill when it comes to engaging with players.
The relationship nowadays between players and officials regularly appears tense. When this happens it is difficult to establish trust and this will inevitably make the job of the referee all the more difficult.
At the start of the championship the GAA opted for a relatively small pool of hurling referees. This means that teams which have a number of games may end up with the same official on more than one occasion.
Notwithstanding the incidents in Thurles, refereeing standards in hurling are good but consistent application of the rules remains a big challenge. It is not easy being an inter-county referee, but the task can be made easier when the official has the ability to communicate effectively with the players on both sides. This is a skill which is lacking in too many refs today.