James Crombie/INPHO
# Men in the Middle
Black cards, two referees, mouthguards and melees - the issues facing the GAA's officials this summer
With more games it’s going to be a hectic summer for the GAA’s referees.

THE GAA’S REFEREES’ chief does not envisage a black card being introduced in hurling in ‘the immediate future’ and does not believe there is a need for a second referee to help officiate as the speed of both hurling and Gaelic football increases.

With the 2018 championship having commenced last weekend, Willie Barrett is confident in the referees at their disposal as the volume of matches is set to increase over the coming weeks.

“We’ve had fitness tests, fitness training seminars throughout the year. In hurling we have 10 referees, football 18, in the championship panels. They are all very fit. We are well catered for with one referee.

“It’s a yellow in hurling for a pull-down. As long as our referees are applying the rule there, it’s for somebody else to decide whether a black card is needed in hurling. We go by the rules that are there when we’re talking to our referees. I don’t see it coming in in the immediate future, to be honest. We are happy to deal with the rules as they are at present.”

Barrett believes the black card has ‘done a good job’ in football in acting as a deterrent to cynical play.

“For the immediate future, I don’t see an issue with the black card. The black card has done a good job for us. We’d be happy enough that the application of the black card is good.

“It took a while to bed down. There was teething problems. I think we’re in a better place now. We have less discussion of the black card. There is a greater acceptance of the black card by players in particular when it is issued. You don’t see as many asking questions as we used to. I think referees are getting it very right in the black card situation.”

Cathal Sweeney is shown a black card by Fergal Kelly Cathal Noonan / INPHO Galway's Cathal Sweeney is shown a black card by referee Fergal Kelly in February. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

The National Referees Development Committee gathered the referees on this year’s championship panels for a recent review of the league action and a number of issues emerged which will be focused on this summer:


  • Concern was expressed at the number of players who don’t appear to be using mouthguards.
  • Referees have noticed an increase in the amount of melee type situations which have developed.
  • An increase in potentially dangerous head high tackles and collisions was very noticeable during the Allianz league.


  • Referees have expressed concern as to the increase in holding-type infractions which appears to be creeping in to hurling.
  • A marked increased in melees has been noted.
  • Similar to football, there appears to have been an increase in potentially dangerous head high tackles and collisions during the Allianz league.
  • Referees have noted how difficult it is for them to ‘referee’ the handpass in hurling due to the speed of the players.
  • Adherence to the rule relating to interference with the faceguard/helmet has improved considerably, both by players and referees.

The incident that resulted in Kildare’s Eoin Doyle being sent-off in a league game in February threw the issue of mouthguards into the spotlight and that along with a spike in the number of melees is something Barrett is keen to see addressed.

“We want to ensure in the interests of safety that players are wearing their mouth-guards. We think it is very important. Wearing a mouthguard is wearing it in a mouth, not in a stocking.

“I suppose the other one in in football is melee situations. This is something we’ve certainly honed in on as well. We’ve seen a number of games where a melee has occurred and we’ve asked our referees to deal with it very strongly.

“Where there are two players involved, it’s fine, the referee can deal with it. But where more players come in and add to that…it then becomes a melee. What’s a melee? Making a bad situation worse.

“We would be particularly honing in on the first and second person in to the melee, shall we say, after two players have been involved. We believe that’s causing other players to come in.

“Likewise in hurling, if it’s left to the two players and the referees and officials, there’s generally no difficulty.

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