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OPINION: Something needs to give regarding refereeing in hurling after weekend controversies

The overriding feeling around the county following Limerick’s battling loss to Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final on Saturday is pride mixed with disappointment.

In a ferocious battle between the sides, Brian Cody’s men ultimately prevailed and admittedly deserved to after leading from pillar to post in a titanic tussle.

GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final, Croke Park, Dublin 27/7/2019 Limerick vs Kilkenny Limerick’s Cian Lynch dejected after the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Oisin Keniry

That game coupled with the clash between Tipperary and Wexford a day later furthered the idea that All-Ireland Hurling semi-final weekend is the gold standard in the GAA calendar.

While it did not quite match last year’s weekend where Clare and Galway played out an epic extra-time draw in Croke Park before Limerick and Cork matched the feat less than 24 hours later, there was plenty of drama and skill to the fore last weekend.

With over 100,000 people pouring into Croke Park between Saturday and Sunday, the hurling on show was a treat for everyone with all sides evenly matched and sublime skills on show by all players.

Yet, while we should be marvelling at another superb spectacle for the GAA, the officiating in both games has dominated much of the headlines.

GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final, Croke Park, Dublin 27/7/2019 Limerick vs Kilkenny Limerick’s Darragh O’Donovan and selector Brian Geary appeals for a late 65 after taking a sideline cut Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

On the Sunday Game, much time was dedicated to analysing the performance of both whistle-blowers over the weekend.

On Saturday, came in for much criticism as did the failure of the officials to spot Darragh O’Donovan’s last minute sideline hit off a Kilkenny man as it sailed wide, ultimately costing Limerick the chance to level the game with a ’65.

The following day, there was controversy surrounding Wexford’s third goal with Conor McDonald adjudged not to have breached the square illegally.

In the same game McDonald could have had a penalty for an incident very similar to the one that saw Gillane awarded a penalty the previous day.

Tipperary will feel aggrieved to have had two goals disallowed during the game with a late Hawkeye call resulting in a four-point swing in favour of Wexford.

Donal Og Cusack approached the subject on the GAA’s flagship show calling for more officials on matchday.

However, the addition of a second referee may cause more trouble than good.

With the ball constantly changing ends, who is in charge when the ball is in the middle of the pitch? Who has the final say if there is a disagreement?

Personally, I don’t think that a second referee on the field is the way forward, but something does need to be done.

The referees in hurling have possibly the hardest job of any sportsman and they do not have the required help as the game has reached new levels of speed.

The addition of more touchlines officials is one way to help referees.

On Saturday evening, it should have been the linesman, who was inches away from the incident, that spotted the flick off O’Donovan’s sideline, not the referee who was stationed near the goal.

GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final, Croke Park, Dublin 27/7/2019 Limerick vs Kilkenny Limerick’s Darragh O’Donovan and selector Brian Geary appeals for a late 65 after taking a sideline cut Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

Furthermore, as Cusack argues, there should be less responsibility on the referee in terms of time and score.

There should be an official on the sideline that is in contact with the man in the middle with information on the score and the time to allow him to fully focus on proceedings on field.

The implementation of things like VAR are unrealistic for a number of reasons. With so many scores and instances, the game will be slowed dramatically.

Also, five years after Hawkeye was brought into the GAA, it is still only available in a couple of stadiums, with the introduction of VAR a much more complicated operation.

GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final, Croke Park, Dublin 27/7/2019 Limerick vs Kilkenny Limerick’s Richie English dejected after the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

In one sense it is positive that these incidents will open dialogue with any discussion in an effort to improve the game a positive one.

However, at the end of the day, all involved are humans and as a result there will be human error which must be accepted.

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