In defence of free takers: to point or not to point, that is the question

Cork players and ref

Photo: Breaking News

It’s the last minute of a cup final; you are standing over a free kick, you step up and score the winner for your team. That is the dream of every young soccer player the world over. In that game you only have one option, it’s either a goal, or it’s not a goal. There is no in-between.

Trust the Irish game to make it a bit more complicated.

You’re two points down. Do you stick it over? Do you have a go at goal?

That should easily be answered by bringing time into the decision making process. It is an easy question – do I have time to put it over, go one behind and try winning the kick out to get an equaliser?

The referee is, rightly or wrongly, the only source of time remaining for a player on a pitch. There is no one else to ask, they control the finishing time. We all knew that on Sunday Cormac Reilly had played 2:50 of a supposed two minutes of stoppage time when Colm O’Neill stepped up to take his free. Time is officially up.

Reminiscent of Cillian O’Connor’s effort last September, Colm has no way of knowing how long is left without asking the man in the middle. Players don’t have the luxury of fancy TV graphics. It doesn’t matter if time is actually up or how long has been played because the players don’t know. If a player was able to hear the PA in Croke Park or had time to keep an eye on the big screen in an All-Ireland quarter-final, then questions would have to be asked about their performance and focus.

If, and it is an if, Cillian O’Connor and Colm O’Neill were told they had time to take a point, then statistically speaking it is the right decision. Odds are better of winning a kick-out and getting an equaliser than shooting at a goal with at least ten men on the line. Players of their calibre don’t put it over if they know it is the last kick of the game.

We’re heard from Cork about it but unfortunately we will probably not hear from Cormac Reilly. That is another issue for another article.

Perhaps, like Sean Cavanagh suggests, we should follow the ladies’ model and use a buzzer. No questions can be asked and it is another pressure removed from what is an undoubtedly stressful job as an inter-county referee.

I do not for one minute believe the referee cost Cork on Sunday, nor do I believe the referee cost Mayo last September, but it sure would be nice, just once, for it not to be an issue.

Seamus Conwell is a financial journalist with CNBC in London and a GAA statistician in his spare time. He can be followed on Twitter @SeamusConwell.

10 thoughts on “In defence of free takers: to point or not to point, that is the question

  1. Grand Seamus, it’s hard not to think back to last September when Cillian was in a similar spot with time on the clock, albeit injury time. The difference though with O’Neill’s was that injury time was already up, so it was naive, no matter what O’Neill’ or Cork say, to think that there would be time for another play. And it’s not up to the ref to advise the player to go for a point or a goal. O’Neil and cork just didn’t have the balls to go for the goal and they have to live with that. So we move on, they go home…simples.

    And btw, when is any ref going to start issuing red cards to team “officials” when they come galavanting onto the field, for no good reason. Lots of this going on recently, to the point where it’s annoying. Ala, the cork official bending Reilly’s ear in injury time last Sunday.

  2. When a scuffle broke out in the first half on Sunday Ciaran O’Sullivan (Cork selector) was one of the first bodies on the scene. Surely this shouldn’t be happening?

  3. I believe whatever the outcome players should never push and shove a referee there were thousands of children watching that match. Players, at any level should show a good example of how to behave. We as trainers try to teach our young people to respect each other and the ref on the pitch. Severe lack of respect to the game.

  4. The ref can only say how much time he believes is left, he doesnt advise them what they should do or not do. Apparently he said a minute or so. Cork obviously concluded there was time to take the point and try again, as we did last year.

  5. What players , maybe don’t realise, is that the clock does not stop, while the free taker is taking the free and valuble seconds are used up, while lining it up . So by the time the free is taken, the clock has moved on and all the time, is used up.
    It is a valuble lesson, which players are slow to learn .
    All the seconds in the game are valuble and the scores got or missed in the early part of the game are as valuble as the ones got or missed, at the end of it.

  6. They hoped the ref would play for a draw as often happened in the past when a big game was close! Gaa treasurers in the past always appreciated a ref who ensured a second big payday.
    Didn’t work this time.

  7. The biggest problem now for the GAA is to properly address such issues before the games themselves become more and more like soccer matches. Already we have farcical scenes where refs seem to be open to any sort of abuse on the pitch and it is consistently happening at the top inter county level. This is a terrible image for the kids growing up.

    But unfortunately that it the nature of GAA. The bring in major changes on a yearly basis ala the black card this year but are afraid to address the more fundamental issues within the game such as

    1: Timekeeping – the announcer say “there is AT LEAST two minutes extra time”.
    “At least” to me means that it’s discretionary after that on the referee. I agree with Seán Kavanagh. The ladies seems to work really well and the hooter decides.

    2: What exactly are the umpires and linesmen supposed to officiate on ? Generally in top games they are also top referees. But they never seem to give their opinion even though they are generally much closer to incidents than refs.

    3: The biggest fundamental issue in GAA football is the tackle. What is and what is not a legitimate tackle in football as it is very open to interpretation.

    It’s a very bad reflection on the GAA and Croke Park as to why direction on issues like these cannot be more clear. You have to consider what kind of image does it portray when a referee has to be escorted off the pitch in a major game becasue of a misinterpretation or a decision that some don’t like. There must be some way for this to change.

  8. JPM
    I sat with two refs from Ulster during the match who ref at a fairly high level. What was interesting was they called everything exactly the same as Cormac Reilly before or at the same time he called it. I was doing my amateur ref thing of course at the same time and was completely wrong most of the time. It was interesting, they are obviously working off a different understanding but it does seem to be relatively consistent.
    Now I know we will all say that refs are not consistent but I’m starting to wonder is it they have a different interpretation of the rules and they are actually fairly consistent about that, its just that we think they are generally wrong in that interpretation.

  9. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not criticising referees here. My issue is with the authorities who fail to either give teams and players the proper guidance on how to deal with referees. You don’t see that carry on in Rugby at any level.

    If the referee makes a bad mistake (and Lord knows they will as they are Human after all) then so be it. But i disagree with allowing players and managers to question authority time after time. It should be more harshly dealt with.

    I referee underage soccer here and I see the approach now being taken and frankly it’s a good one. If there is any nonsense from the line I report it and that club gets fined. As the reports come in and the fines build up of the nonsense from the line dwindles more and more.
    The reason I say it’s a good thing is becasue when that attempted interference on refereeing from the line (or other refs on the ditch) is allowed to continue unchecked it eventually makes it’s way onto the pitch and into the players heads. And if this is happening then the player becomes focused on the referee and the next decision rather than concentrating on the game and what’s taking place and what they should be doing.

    And you can see this behavior happening in GAA matches now more and more where refs are allowed to be ‘Bullied’ (for want of a better word) from the sideline. Davy Fitz immediately springs to mind.

    On the other issues though Croke Park should also be more forthcoming on addressing them. Bringing in new rules like the Black card actually make it more difficult to referee games. What do your friends think of it? In my opinion it would be far better if the existing rules were changed to help referees such as

    1: More direction on communication and more involvement between umpires, linesmen, fourth official and the main refs
    2: Take such issues as timekeeping out of the officials hands (make it easier)
    3: Address the fundamental issue of the tackle and what should or should not be be allowed.

  10. Timekeeping was due to be taken away from the referee this championship. They tested the hooter in the Sigerson and it was by and large a success – but it was held back from this championship to address two issues: tactical substitutions running down the clock and what happens if the hooter goes while a shot is in the air? But it should be in place from next year.

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