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Adam Moynihan: We need referees, so why do we give them so much grief?

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This weekend thousands of Dublin children have been left on the sidelines after referees pulled out of fixtures due to incessant verbal abuse. Killarney Advertiser sports editor Adam Moynihan looks at the reasons behind the culture of abuse that exists in some of our favourite sports.

Of all the side hustles that exist, reffing amateur sport must be one of the strangest. I don’t know about you (maybe my ego is too big) but standing in a muddy field while several people verbally abuse me isn’t exactly my idea of #sundayvibes. But a game needs a referee more than any other individual. If a player, coach, or fan doesn’t show up, the show goes on.

Where would we be if the refs, having been told to ‘f- off’ by countless people on a weekly basis, actually did just that?

This week, players, coaches and parents in the North Dublin Schoolboys/Girls League and the Metropolitan Girls League have found out exactly what happens when the refs say, “no more”. Fed up with the level of verbal abuse directed their way during matches, officials have withdrawn their services for this weekend’s fixtures. At least 550 games have been postponed.

“This is a sad day for football and I hope we will learn from what is happening this weekend,” the leagues’ honorary secretary and CEO Tony Gains told clubs via an official communique.

“[Last] weekend a female referee refereeing her first game of three games was abused so badly from the time she entered the pitch, she decided that she is not taking any more of this abuse from these people and she has now decided to give up refereeing entirely.

“Another young referee who has only been refereeing for the past two months was petrified on the pitch, he was so afraid even to collect his gear. This abuse he took was absolutely disgraceful.”

You have to feel for the officials. They’re certainly not getting paid enough to put up with this kind of thing. No one is.

LOSERS

The biggest losers here are the young players who are missing out on what is probably the highlight of their week. Well, actually, they’re the second biggest losers here, after the grown adults who are harassing match officials at a children’s soccer match.

Sadly, reports of shameful abuse at juvenile sporting events are commonplace in Ireland. For some reason, perfectly respectable members of the community find it acceptable to lay into referees, coaches and players at a game. I think that’s a key word: ‘acceptable’. There seems to be this acceptable level of abuse in some of our favourite sports. It’s basically fine to swear at a referee in soccer and Gaelic games.

Rugby, it must be noted, is much different in this regard. My own experience with the sport is limited to a semester-long spell with a college team in New York but the manner in which the referees were treated was truly remarkable. It’s all “sir” this and “thank you” that.

In my first match, I took a quick tap-and-go that was destined to result in the first and only try of my ill-fated rugby career. I was streaking through unchallenged, happy but slightly conflicted as I recalled that rookie try-scorers had to run naked through the sports fields after their debut.

Sadly for me (and luckily for the students who were ambling around the State University of New York campus that autumn Sunday), the referee called play back. I had supposedly taken the penalty from the wrong spot. It was harsh and I was sickened. If it was soccer or football, I absolutely would have told the referee how I felt. But it just isn’t done in rugby, so I bit my tongue and got on with it. That’s the culture and, even though I was only involved in the sport briefly, I automatically bought into it.

EDUCATION

Sometimes it is the less educated (in sporting terms) parents and fans who lose the run of themselves at matches. Maybe a poor understanding of the game is a factor here; every refereeing decision is potentially wrong when you don’t know the rules.

Other parents, and this is true of a lot of supporters in general, go after the ref out of a misplaced sense of loyalty. To many, the referee is not only not neutral, he’s actually one of “them”. A duplicitous secret agent in cahoots with the enemy. Every club has their “give him a jersey!” brigade. If that’s your attitude from the throw-in, abuse is almost inevitable.

And some parents and fans just can’t keep their emotions under control. Call it over-exuberance or being too passionate or being over-protective of their child or clubmate, whatever it is it can frequently lead to outbursts that they might well regret once the dust settles and the red mist clears.

Coaches regularly blow a gasket too. While it’s not necessarily forgivable, especially if it leads to a referee getting abused, this is a little more understandable, especially at senior level. Managers and selectors are under a lot of pressure to get results and when a decision goes against them it can decide their whole year, and ultimately impact their reputations.

People say there’s no point giving out to a ref. He’s not going to change his mind. That’s not why players and managers shout at referees. Firstly, they’re trying to influence the next decision, not the last one. It’s an attempt to guilt-trip the official into favouring them the next time he might be unsure of the correct course of action. Of course, this is often counterproductive. Why should the ref give you a break when you were abusing him from a height a matter of seconds ago?

Secondly, and I know this myself from whenever I give out to a ref, it’s often because the player has made a mistake him/herself.

If I’ve been turned over, or I’ve lazily drifted offside, that’s when I’m most likely to have a cut off the ref. It’s deflecting, pure and simple.

You’re annoyed with your own error but you can’t exactly verbally abuse yourself, can you? Fellas will be talking.

On more than one occasion I’ve witnessed a teammate absolutely tearing into the ref over some decision or other, and then swear blind in the dressing room that he was wronged. And we all sit there nodding our heads, despite knowing full well that it was the right call, and the teammate just messed up.

Sometimes by drawing attention to the referee, managers are also deflecting from their own shortcomings and the shortcomings of their team. Losing the plot over a stoppage time decision communicates to supporters that the ref is after screwing us here. “Sure what can we do when we’re playing against 16?”

And look, sometimes the anger is actually justified. Referees make mistakes, and that can be very annoying. Does that warrant verbal abuse, or physical intimidation as was the case in Dublin recently? Absolutely not. It’s possible to communicate to a ref that you think he has made a mistake without questioning his intelligence, eyesight or integrity.

The odd time alright you come across a ref who won’t listen to anyone, and that irritates me more than anything. It’s a bit like the bouncer who treats everyone like a potential troublemaker, despite the fact that most of us are just there to have a good time, bro.

I suppose it’s a defence mechanism. If you’re getting abused on such a regular basis, maybe it’s easier to assume that everyone is going to be a problem.

In my experience, the best referees have very open lines of communication with the players. They explain every decision clearly and you can explain your side (respectfully) without getting a dismissive response.

It’s a lot harder to lash someone who has been sound to you all day, even if he has just given a dodgy last-minute penalty to the opposition.

There’s no hard and fast solution to this blight on our games but the culture is wrong in the GAA and soccer and there’s no getting away from that. The Silent Sidelines initiative in the GAA is a fantastic idea and coaches say it works well. I would love to see the GAA adopting it wholesale, and the FAI too for that matter.

As for senior level, I think there needs to be a more zero-tolerance approach to verbal abuse – red cards and suspensions – and also accountability within the teams themselves.

We might sometimes view refs as the spoilsports but it’s pretty straightforward: no referee, no party.

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BREAKING: Kerry FC respond to criticism of season ticket prices

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by Adam Moynihan

Kerry FC have responded to online criticism of the price of their 2023 seated season tickets, highlighting the availability of “other options” for supporters of the League of Ireland’s newest club.

Season tickets for the Main Stand at Mounthawk Park went on sale this morning at a price of €275. LOI fans were quick to point out that this is the most expensive season ticket in the First Division, with a number of rival clubs charging less than €200.

In a statement released to the Killarney Advertiser, Kerry FC said that pricing structures were “examined for a long time” in the build-up to their season ticket launch.

“It’s worth noting that the €275 season ticket guarantees your assigned seat for every home league game in the 2023 season in a covered stand on the long side of the pitch,” the club explained.

“If supporters would prefer, there are plenty of other season ticket options, including a terrace ticket for general admission at a price of €200.

“Family tickets ensure children can attend our games at a minimal cost while Students/OAPs receive a significant discount on their yearly ticket.”

Over 100 Main Stand season tickets were sold within an hour of going on sale at 9am today.

The 2023 League of Ireland season will get underway in February.

Kerry FC season tickets can be purchased here.

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How ‘box office’ duo Clifford and O’Shea pushed Kerry’s brand into overdrive

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Adam Moynihan caught up with Kerry GAA Store manager Luke Quinn to find out how the Killarney-based business made record profits in 2022

It was a sad day for the parish when Killarney’s famous Nike Factory Store closed its doors in March of this year. That big, white Swoosh had attracted locals and visitors to the Killarney Outlet Centre since both the store and the centre first opened in 1999. Having a brand that large in a town so small was pretty cool. We were all sorry to see it go.

It wasn’t the only sports brand to call the Outlet Centre home, though. As Nike shut up shop, just across the way, on the other side of the escalator, the Kerry GAA Store was gearing up for what would turn out to be their best year ever.

The official retail outlet of Kerry GAA racked up €200,000 in profits in the financial year up to November. Not quite Nike numbers – the US sportswear giant made €21 billion globally – but the store’s record revenue certainly came as a welcome bonus for the county board.

Preparing intercounty teams has become hugely expensive (Kerry spent almost €1.5 million on their footballers and hurlers in 2022) and plans are in place to redevelop the Fitzgerald Stadium at an estimated cost of €72 million. Every cent counts.

The unprecedented success of the business is also a sure sign that the Kerry brand, which has been developing in one way or another for over 100 years, has now slipped into overdrive.

I recently called into the Kerry GAA Store to speak to manager Luke Quinn and find out more.

OFFICE

After selling a half-zip tracksuit top to a customer and handing over to his assistant, Luke invites me into a narrow office down the back. Myself and Luke actually know each other a long time. As kids we were neighbours down in Whitebridge Manor. I recall borrowing his Schmeichel-era Man United keeper jersey once so I could play in goal. It wasn’t the last jersey he gave me (although, in fairness, these days I pay).

A popular figure at his club, Dr Crokes, Luke experienced great success as a player and he is currently part of Brian McMahon’s senior management team. After chatting a bit about football, we get down to business.

I get the impression that I’m embarrassing him somewhat when I ask for the official amount that the store handed over to the county board, but he readily admits that he is delighted with the 12 months he and his team have put down.

“I think with the new jersey being released, and with Kerry reaching and winning the All-Ireland final, all those things combined and led to a very profitable year,” Quinn says.

“Any time you bring out a jersey, especially a home jersey, it gains traction – not alone in Kerry but all over the world.”

The popularity of that new O’Neills home jersey is an interesting one because it actually received quite a poor reception when it was unveiled in January. For his part, Quinn attributes that initial reaction to the imagery that accompanied the release. The sublimated background graphics on the body of the shirt were exaggerated in the launch photos, which made it look far louder than it actually was in real life.

“When people saw it in reality and when the team wore it, sales went through the roof. I remember the first weekend they wore it on TV against Kildare, the jersey gained unbelievable traction. I think people’s minds were changed.

“I know that O’Neills were very confident that it was going to sell well and, to be honest, we were as well. It’s like anything when it’s new, it takes a bit of time to seep in.

“I think the return of white trim was a factor. The bit of white just makes everything pop. It’s subtle enough but it makes a huge difference; it makes the green and gold more prominent.”

Perhaps even more significant than the design of the jersey itself was the talent wearing it. Kerry ended their eight-year drought by defeating Galway in the All-Ireland final in July with Man of the Match and Footballer of the Year David Clifford to the fore. At just 23 years of age, Clifford is now the sport’s standout superstar and Quinn says that he and semi-final hero Seán O’Shea are now driving the Kerry brand on a national and global level.

“Kerry is a worldwide brand at this stage. It’s a known brand and it’s not only Kerry people who want to buy the shirt, it’s people in the midlands, up the north, all over the world really.

“This Kerry team is relatively young and they’re after building a nice relationship with the public. The more you win, the more you’re going to be in the news and the media and the likes of David Clifford and Seánie and these guys, they’re box office now. The boys really do give [the brand] that extra push.

“It’s very hard to quantify but one thing you’d notice is that this year we had parents coming in who might have no interest in the GAA, in particular foreign nationals from places like Eastern Europe, and they had kids who were mad to get the jersey. They would actually point to the photos of David and Seánie and say they wanted the jerseys that those guys wear.

“You can’t really put a figure on it but you can see that these players are reaching out to a large audience because of who they are. At this stage, if they wore a black plastic bag, the kids would want a black plastic bag.”

The GAA is different to sports like soccer in that players don’t have squad numbers or their names printed on the backs of their shirts. If the GAA went down that road, Quinn has no doubt about which jersey would be the most popular.

“You’d just be stocking up on Clifford jerseys, wouldn’t you?” he laughs. “I’ve heard squad numbers being mooted but intercounty GAA is so different. The panels change so often, especially the higher numbers. Kerry could have 40 different players training with them throughout the year so it would be hard to nail down numbers.

“We possibly will bring out a number 14 and a number 11 shirt ourselves (Clifford and O’Shea’s usual numbers). Maybe a number 8 too. The more prominent ones. There is a demand for that. But as for names on the back, that might be a bridge too far.”

Aside from the jerseys, many items from Kerry’s leisure and training wear collections are also big sellers. The store receives four ranges from O’Neills every year, two of which are exclusive to the shop (i.e. the National League range and the Championship range). These collections include the same hoodies, jackets, half-zips and polo shirts the players wear travelling to games, as well as the clothing that team manager Jack O’Connor wears on the sideline.

The training jerseys sported by the players when they warm up before matches are also popular.

STRONG RELATIONSHIP

After a turbulent period in the nineties when they changed kit supplier three times (adidas to Emerald Active Wear, then to Millfield, and then back to adidas), Kerry have now been with O’Neills for 22 years straight. The relationship between the two parties is strong. Quinn certainly doesn’t see it ending any time soon.

“O’Neills are a great company to deal with. They have a lot of stuff in the pot – 30 or 31 counties – but they’re good at what they do. They wouldn’t be at the top of the game for this long otherwise. Their production is very streamlined, they have a good marketing team, and a good design team. The reps on the ground are very helpful and I can see them going from strength to strength to be honest with you, and further afield in other sports as well.

“The issue with another company coming in instead of O’Neills – for example if we took on another smaller producer – I think the bottom line is that if the team gets to an All-Ireland semi-final or final, the demand for jerseys and leisurewear goes through the roof. I don’t think there’s any other company in the country that could accommodate that demand in such a short space of time. Especially with the season being shortened, I just can’t see anyone else being able to take on that production.

“O’Neills have a monstrosity of a factory up in Strabane as well as the one in Dublin, which is no small factory either. And even at that, when it comes to the summertime, they would be at capacity. I can’t imagine another company taking on a county like Kerry or Dublin or Mayo who are GAA mad and are always at the business end of the season. Other companies will find it hard to dip into the big hitters.”

At a national level, O’Neills jersey sales were actually down 16% in 2022, something the company has attributed to the shorter intercounty window. Thankfully for Quinn and for Kerry, the Kerry GAA Store didn’t experience the same drop in sales once the season ended in July.

“I suppose with Kerry getting to the final and winning it, we weren’t affected as much,” he reflects. “There was a nice little buzz after the final. We brought out some different bits of merchandise on the back of winning as well so that’s always going to help. I also think people are getting ahead of Christmas that bit earlier this year.

“It would be different if Kerry lost earlier in the year but I can’t say the split season affected us too much.”

SEVEN DAYS A WEEK

Quinn took the reins five years ago and although he describes it as a busy job, it’s one he’s massively enjoying.

“I’m loving it. I took over from Botty (Niall O’Callaghan) and Seán O’Sullivan so I had big boots to fill but the boys were great on the handover. I’ve got some good bosses who help me out big time. The county board leave me to my own devices but they’re always there when I need any help.

“It’s busy and we’re open seven days a week. The only days we’re closed are Christmas Day and New Year’s Day so it’s gung-ho all the time. With new ranges and new jerseys and new fashion trends, you have to keep your finger on the pulse at all times. So it is busy but it’s the way I like to be.”

What does a normal day look like?

“It’s always about planning ahead. Today I’m ordering next year’s Christmas range. I don’t even know how exactly Christmas is going to go this year in terms of sales but O’Neills need to plan so far ahead in their production that I’m already ordering for Christmas next year. You’re always trying to keep ahead of the game.

“There are new training jerseys coming out pre-Christmas. There’s a National League range coming out pre-Christmas. There’s an away jersey coming in January. You have to get your numbers right, get your system set up to take in all that stock, organise staff, and make sure everything is streamlined.”

That mention of a new Kerry away jersey will no doubt pique the curiosity of our readers. The outgoing away top, an eye-catching blue and lime green effort, has been in use since 2020. I pressed Luke for details.

“I haven’t even seen samples yet. If you’re talking to O’Neills tell them to send them down as soon as possible! I genuinely don’t know what it will look like. The design team at O’Neills will develop a good few prototypes, they’ll be sent down to ourselves and the county board, and we’ll go through them. O’Neills will give us a good idea of what they feel will work.

“Some of the players will have an input and then a final decision will be made. At the end of January, Kerry will be out against Donegal and hopefully we’ll see the new away jersey then.”

It’s hard to imagine Kerry footballers from bygone eras having (or wanting to have) too much say in the design of the kit but, generally speaking, the modern player is more into fashion than his predecessors. In that regard, it makes sense for them to have their say.

“There would definitely be an input,” Quinn reveals. “Some of the players just want to concentrate on the football or the hurling but other guys would be very style conscious in what they want to wear. Colm Whelan, the kit man for the footballers, and Tim Daly with the hurlers have a big interest in what ranges and training jerseys and playing jerseys are coming in. They know the guys [on the panel] who would be into the fashion side of things and we have a couple of WhatsApp groups to get the players’ opinions.

“O’Neills would definitely take it on board,” Quinn says, before jokingly adding, “I suppose if the best footballer in the country wants a certain thing then you’re going to have to go with it, aren’t you?!”

FOOTBALL TALK

One thing I’ve noticed from my trips to the Kerry GAA Store is the constant flow of GAA-related chat between the customers and the staff. Admittedly you could probably overhear football talk on any premises in a town like Killarney, but the store is the perfect setting for it. And that’s something Quinn and his employees relish. 

“You have all these business things going on in the background but the main thing in all this is the customer. We can’t lose sight of that. You still want to give the customers coming in the best experience, to chat about Kerry football, and engage with the public. That’s what it’s all about.

“This shop is bucking the trend. We do have an online store but it’s still very much a kind of ‘shop local’ set-up. All profits raised go back to the county board and we have so many repeat customers. Some people don’t even buy stuff, they just come in and shoot the breeze about how bad the Crokes were last weekend or whatever. From my point of view, I love it.

“My staff are great too. Seán House from Tralee is the assistant manager. He has been here a year and a bit and he has been excellent. We have eight or nine part-timers and most of them are in college but they’re all very invested in the place. They’re all here four or five years which is a good sign. They get excited when new stuff is coming in, they get a kick out of that.”

As a Kerry native who played the game to a high level, Quinn is naturally a massive fan of Kerry football. I was curious to know if the nature of his line of work, specifically the fact that the fortunes of the business depend so heavily on the fortunes of the team, affects the way he watches the games.

“A couple of years ago Kerry lost to Cork and we were out so early. Maybe not during the game but shortly after you’re saying to yourself, revenues are going to be a lot further down now. So definitely after the game it would be one of the first thoughts to come into your head. But it’s more the county board and the revenues that go back that I’d be thinking of.

“It would pop into your head afterwards but I’d be a normal Kerry supporter as the game is going on.”

Ultimately, it’s all about facilitating the continued growth of football and hurling in the county and Quinn is full of praise for his bosses who help make that happen.

“The chairman Patrick O’Sullivan – the store was his idea first day – as well as John O’Leary, John Joe Carroll and Liam Chute, they’re all very successful in their own professional careers. They’re very much doing this on a voluntary basis because they’re so proud of the shop and how well it has done. We’re all in it together.

“When you have a successful year financially it means you can develop Currans further, you can develop the pitches, you can bring in more Games Development Administrators. You can keep pushing on.”

The brand has a long way to go to reach Nike levels but with talented individuals on the pitch and in the boardroom, Kerry GAA appear to be ticking all the right boxes.

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