Thursday, 23 June 2022: Pictured is Gaelic football referee, David Gough, as part of SuperValu’s #CommunityIncludesEveryone campaign.

David Gough Wants Mindset Changes About Refereeing In GAA

By PJ Browne

David Gough believes there needs to be a mindset shift around how we think about refereeing in the GAA. That includes for the person asking the questions during this interview.

"First thing I'd say is the language around that needs to change," the Meath native tells Balls when asked about the Armagh and Tyrone National League game earlier this year in which five players were red carded following a melee.

"The language you would have used was that 'You sent off five players'. My language would be, 'Five players were sent off because of their actions'. There's a complete difference in mindset in that I don't feel culpable in any way for sending those players off. They were sent off because of their actions. That's the first thing that needs to change."

In more than 15 years of refereeing - including a decade at inter-county level - Gough says that was the first time he had to deal with a melee.

"I don't read social media comments in relation to that sort of stuff," says Gough, speaking as part of SuperValu’s #CommunityIncludesEveryone campaign.

"I generally find the people who are writing that don't understand or have the same knowledge of the rules that I have. It can be a bit of a frustration for me.

"I know there is a lot of commentary. People will say, 'Did you see what was written today? Did you see what was on this website or what was said on this podcast?'

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"I wash my hands of it. I implemented the rules, did what I was supposed to do. It wasn't borne out of any frustration I had in relation to the game. I just dealt with it in rule. I didn't know what else to do."

6 February 2022; Referee David Gough orders off Tyrone players, from left, Kieran McGeary, Peter Harte, Michael McKernan and Padraig Hampsey of Tyrone after showing them all a red card during the Allianz GAA Football League Division 1 match between Armagh and Tyrone at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Last week, Clare's Peter Duggan and Rory Hayes, and Galway's Cianan Fahy were all cleared to play in the All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals despite having bans proposed for their actions during their respective provincial finals.

Those bans were proposed retrospectively after incidents were highlighted during RTÉ's coverage. Given the remarkable success of the Matlocks hired by county boards in getting bans overturned, it was immediately presumed that the players and management teams would not accept the suspensions. They didn't, and all three skipped through the same loophole to play.

Gough believes this is where there needs to be another mindset shift, and that a closing of loopholes within the GAA's disciplinary system would help.

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"That culture [of accepting disciplinary measures] doesn't exist within the GAA," says Gough.

"As long as there are loopholes within the system, and not a tight process, that's going to happen. They (people on disciplinary committees) are volunteers, they're not professionals. They're doing this at a professional level, but still on a voluntary basis. They want to stay involved. The responsibility is sometimes taken off them because they are volunteers and not professionals.

You wouldn't see the same thing happening on a rugby pitch. If a player was suspended, he'd take his suspension, and it wouldn't be appealed, for fear that if he did appeal, and lost, it would be doubled.

That's the stage we need to get to in GAA, that appeals are taken seriously, and it's not just a case of 'Sure, we'll put in an appeal, we know you'll get off'.

"My understanding is that they don't get off necessarily because they didn't do what we said they did. They're still culpable in relation to their actions on the field but there are other reasons [players get off] - technicalities, not following protocol written in Part 1 of the rule book.

"I certainly don't get as frustrated as I used to if a player gets off. I still did my job on the day. The player was punished, and that's all I am tasked with doing in the rule book. After that, it's someone else's job."

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In Gough's eyes, what makes a good referee is not just someone who can recite the rule book verbatim, but an official who has an understanding of it through experience, time taken reflecting on it, and can communicate decisions to players.

4 March 2012; Referee David Gough. GAA National Football League, Division 2, Round 3, Westmeath v Galway, Cusack Park, Mullingar, Co.Westmeath. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

"It's not just good to know that to contribute to a melee is a red card offence," he says.

"Well, what does 'to contribute' mean? What is a melee? How does a melee manifest itself on a Gaelic football field? What you find in a dictionary isn't what you're going to see on a football field. Being able to understand the language of the rules, which is quite complicated, and then how they manifest themselves on a Gaelic football field.

"The big thing for me is communication; the ability to communicate in a calm, controlled, fair manner using the language of the rules but treating everybody the same. If I'm speaking to Tadhg Morley and Aidan O'Shea, [it's important] that they're both treated with the same respect, both called by their first names, that what I am saying for one is the exact same for the other.

"Communication with your umpires, your other match officials [is important] because two sets of eyes do not work in getting a game safely across the line, particularly at this end of the championship you need all eight pairs of eyes on that field to make sure things are working right, and that you get through the 70-odd minutes safely."

A frustration often voiced by players is what they see as a failure by referees to explain a decision. Gough thinks the annoyance we sometimes see from players on the pitch is not always down to a lack of communication by officials.

"Sometimes you give an answer to a player, and they don't want to hear the response, or they might not agree with it," says Gough.

"You still have a game to referee. If you are issuing him a red card, and you say that 'You're sent off for striking', that message is very clear. That might not be the answer they want to hear. I still have to get a game back moving. I'm not going to stand there debating my decision with you, the decision has been made.

"Sometimes, what players don't realise is in relation to making a decision - I see it, I say in my head what I've seen, I then raise a finger to my lips, blow the whistle, might signal the direction of the free, might signal what the free was for, call the player over, take his name, issue him with a card.

"We're talking 10 or 11 things there in the space of 30 seconds which confirm my original mindset that this is what I've seen, and how I'm going to deal with it.

"Then you have a player coming in trying to change your mindset. It just doesn't make sense to me why they feel that is ever going to change at any stage when you've done so many things to confirm your decision."

1 September 2019; Referee David Gough explains his decision to award a penalty to Kerry for a foul by Jonny Cooper of Dublin, left, on David Clifford of Kerry, during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

When it comes to the rules, Gough says there are "certain things that frustrate" him, such as ones he would like to see written differently because "the mindset we know the rule was written in, the language doesn't always reflect that."

He would also like to see a referee's microphone audio made available to those producing television and radio coverage. That would ensure they understand why a decision was made, and so can correctly communicate it to viewers and listeners rather than having to speculate.

"The once advancement I would like to see to help me as a referee is my microphone on matchday being released to TV studios, to the pundits, or whoever can have access to it," he says.

"So they can understand the decisions I'm making. Quite often, the decisions, 99 per cent of the time are correct in relation to the rule but they are seeing or quoting something completely different on the television.

"That's the huge frustration for me. I don't watch matches back with commentary because I know what I've done on the day, so I watch it back with my mindset. If my microphone was released to those people, well then they might have a better understanding of why a free was given or why I thought a foul occurred.

"You could go with the All-Ireland final from 2019. I was lucky on that day that Kevin McStay in the [RTÉ] studio was wired up to me, and could understand that Jonny Cooper was noted once, noted twice, noted a third time, and gone.

"Equally, around the non-sending off of the Kerry corner-back Tom O'Sullivan where he had been yellow carded in the first half, but was entitled to his note in the second half. That lent itself to people understanding, 'Well, David has done the right thing here', but if Kevin had not been wired up to me, would he have been privy to that information, and would the outcome of those incidents have played out differently in the media?"

Now in their thirteenth year of supporting the GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, SuperValu is once again calling on each and every member of GAA communities across the country to do what they can to make their community more diverse and inclusive. SuperValu is proud to support David, a member of the LGBTI+ community, as he continues to break down barriers in Gaelic Games.

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