THE NEW SEASON of the Airtricity League is only two weeks old, but referees have already found themselves at the centre of some very interesting conversations.
There’s been no shortage of goals and drama in the 12 Premier Division games over the opening two weekends, nor has there been any shortage of teams finishing games with fewer than their full complement of 11.
Of the eight players who have been sent off so far this season, Bray goalkeeper Darren Quigley has most reason to feel aggrieved after he, much like the A Team, was punished for a crime which he did not commit.
Quigley’s only offence was to be found loitering in the vicinity of a foul during the Seagulls’ 4-0 defeat at home to Derry City last weekend. In referee Anthony Buttimer’s defence, the keeper was so close to the action that when he and defender Pierce Sweeney simultaneously went to ground in an attempt to stall Rory Patterson’s advance, Buttimer identified the wrong man for what was a clear foul and sent Quigley packing.
Buttimer clearly got it wrong, as manager Pat Devlin and the television replays subsequently highlighted. The mistake was acknowledged and Quigley’s automatic three-game suspension has since been overturned, freeing him to line out between the sticks against UCD in the Belfield Bowl this evening.
Still, Devlin wasn’t the only manager to deliver a stinging critique of the match officials following last Friday’s games. After watching his Monaghan United side squander a 1-0 lead away to the champions Shamrock Rovers, Roddy Collins took issue with Graham Kelly’s decision to book Darragh Reynor for time-wasting over a free-kick early in the first half.
Reynor’s caution would have been of little consequence had he not scythed down Stephen Rice and promptly received a second yellow with 20 minutes still to play, killing Monaghan’s faint hopes of a comeback, but that didn’t prevent Collins from adding his two cents in his post-match interview.
Those two incidents have merely added to plenty of early-season chatter on crime and punishment. The decision to carry suspensions over from one season to the next has found few friends in the league, particularly up in Drogheda where Mick Cooke was left without four of his new recruits on opening weekend. This rule is very much an exception across the European leagues, and one which the FAI will have to re-examine between now and next March.
That aside, there appears to have been a concerted effort by referees to take a hard-line approach to stamp out dangerous play in the league this season. In years gone by, Bohemians’ Adam Martin or Sligo’s Alan Keane might have considered themselves a little bit hard done by after seeing red for sloppy late tackles. But the referees appear to be very clearly on message now: if you go in off your feet and your tackle is anything but perfectly-timed, you will be sent off.
The disciplinary debate took another interesting turn last weekend when it emerged that Sligo striker Mark Quigley has been suspended for an additional five games on top of the one which he has already missed following his sending-off against Shelbourne on opening weekend. The full details of the FAI Disciplinary Committee’s decision against Quigley have yet to emerge, although the PFAI were the first to suggest that there is “obviously more to it as no tackle last week deserved such a long ban.”
“I’ll have to look up the rules and regulations on that one,” baffled Sligo manager Ian Baraclough said, adding, “I think Eric Cantona got that for a kung-fu tackle.”
Fittingly, the PFAI held a two-day refereeing course in Abbotstown this week, aimed at giving players who wish to stay involved in the game another option when the time comes to hang up their boots. Such initiatives will go a long way towards encouraging respect and appreciation for the men in the middle.
Their lot is not an easy one, as the opening weeks of the 2012 season have already reminded us.
Premier Division fixtures (all Friday, 7.45pm unless stated)
- Cork City v Shamrock Rovers (Friday, 7.05pm)
- Drogheda United v Dundalk
- St Patrick’s Athletic v Monaghan United
- UCD v Bray Wanderers
- Sligo Rovers v Bohemians
- Shelbourne v Derry City (Friday, 8pm)
First Division fixtures (all Friday, 7.45pm unless stated)
- Athlone Town v Finn Harps
- Mervue United v Limerick
- Waterford United v SD Galway
- Wexford Youths v Longford Town (Friday, 8pm)