In many of the games this year we have seen the referees come in for a lot of criticism but much of that criticism has been based around one or two key decisions given at vital times in the games. That would appear to suggest that in the vast majority of circumstances and situations the refs are getting it right. It is without doubt that refereeing is the most thankless and difficult job within the GAA and is not helped by the fact that in televised games the match analysts spend a lot of time dealing with what they deem to be “mistakes” made by the ref. How many times have we heard these people talk about the referees not applying common sense and reffing the game just to please the assessors?
Well Marty Duffy came to Omagh to officiate a game which historically has seen its fair share of controversial decisions and has witnessed plenty of incidents that are still talked about by both sets of supporters. With so much riding on the outcome of this match Armagh and Tyrone were well aware of its importance and thus Duffy’s role in the whole affair was sure to be central to the occasion.
It should be said firstly that the Sligo whistler deserves great credit for his handling of the game. He was helped by the state of the pitch and the weather of course but his decision making and use of his officials helped the game to build in intensity but also to flow with great pace and without unnecessary delay. Players were allowed to make tackles and really compete as we witnessed a very physical battle between two hugely committed sides with long memories, sharing a common goal. Old acquaintances were renewed and some new “friendships” were struck up as the first half passed in a blur. Through it all Duffy ensured that the rules were applied fairly but in a common sense, matter of fact manner. He did issue a few yellow cards but all were merited and there was little fuss or delay as he went about his business. Indeed his display was best summed up in the second half when six players were involved in an incident close to the Armagh 45 metre line. Tyrone’s Tommy Mc Guigan was on the receiving end of some argy bargy from at least two Armagh defenders but Duffy dealt with it by consulting his linesmen speedily, having a quick word with the players and getting on with the game.
The match was very physical and as intense as any fixture between these two great rivals over the past fifteen years but in spite of this not one player was sent off and when the final whistle sounded all sense of rancour ceased. That was due in no small way to the handling of the game by Duffy. It was an old fashioned winner takes all match, officiated in an old fashioned manner that kept the interest of the almost fourteen thousand spectators right up to the end. There were many fine displays of skill throughout which made it a game to remember but Duffy had as good a game as any of the players and should be commended for his handling of it.