Standing at a towering six foot, it’s understandable that Legan native John Bannon faced little resistance when imposing authority on the pitch. His eighteen year stint on the inter-county refereeing panel reached its termination point in 2009 and since then he has committed himself to club refereeing, his family and working as the chief rule interpreter for the Kildare team.
The unsavoury attention that referees are receiving would suggest that the timing of his decision was meticulously executed. John argues however, that it was pre-meditated long in advance. “The fitness requirements for referees were increasing to a very high level and I just felt that I couldn’t reach the standard. I’ve been at it for almost 20 years and I don’t regret my decision.” he insisted.
Questionable refereeing decisions have been under the public microscope as long as the game has existed. It would appear that it has been probed at even more so in recent times. The cauldron of controversial calls is expanding all the time. It peaked last year when patrons charged the pitch in fury after the Leinster senior football final between Louth and Meath and the incorrect application of the rules have been occurring ever since.
Now Hawk eye technology has been cited as a resolution to the problem but John confirms that the only reason for this request is because of the increased level of observation of games. “Referees have always made bad calls, there’s nothing new about that. The only difference is that years ago there may have been only one or two cameras at a game. Now most games are televised and the number of cameras has increased to about ten or twelve so off the ball incidents are much easier to pick up” he retorted.
John’s intellectual knowledge of the GAA rules has been enlisted as a disciplining tool in the Kildare team. For the past year, John has been attending the Kildare training sessions to advise the squad on how to adjust their tactics so that they don’t aggravate the boundaries of the rules.
“It’s something that not a lot of managers do but I can see it being more common in the future. One of the greatest All-Ireland Finals I was ever involved with was the 1998 Sam Maguire decider between Galway and Kildare because the two teams had a positive attitude and they just wanted to play football. That came from the two mangers emphasising on the rules of football” John explained.
Concentration is a pivotal component when it comes to occupying a referee’s role. They don’t have the luxury of reviewing incidents on camera in slow motion. Their choices must be instant and decisive. They depend on their instincts and the opinions of their officials.
“It only takes one bad call to ruin your career. Thankfully I was never faced with much hassle. There was a small bit of controversy surrounding the last game I did but for the most part of it I was lucky and luck plays a huge part. I was confident though because I always picked my own officials.”
Tyrone official Martin Sludden once said that the referee’s role can be a lonely place. It’s times when they are posed with those challenging decisions that could change a game’s trajectory when that statement resonates with truth.