THE increase in the number of people testing positive for Covid is a cause for concern for all sporting organisations going forward, but for the Munster Senior League, there is another worry — a major shortage of referees.
It won’t have gone un-noticed that some of the weekly Saturday fixtures are being played later in the evening and it’s because there are not enough referees to staff games on that day.
“We have huge problems getting referees for Saturday games in particular,” said Munster Senior League chairman John Finnegan.
“But it’s not just Saturday. We have a total of 14 referees to cover games over the weekend and only seven are available on Saturdays.
“We’ve had to play some senior premier league games at 5.30pm and that can’t last, not least because some of the referees are going above and beyond the call of duty, but also because we won’t have the light in few weeks time.
“At the moment, the referees that we have are being completely overworked.
“There are more teams looking for Saturday afternoon games and it means we can no longer guarantee three officials for senior premier games on that day.
“I know that is a big disappointment for clubs, and it is having a negative impact on the games.”
Finnegan says that this shortage of referees is the worst he has ever seen and he also admits that the lack of referees is not confined to the MSL and he believes something has to give if a major problem is to be avoided.
“The numbers coming through the referee ranks are just not there and those numbers have been falling in the last few years, for whatever reason.
“I spoke to Rob Hennessy in the FAI’s referees’ department and they are hopeful of organising a course for early or mid-October.
“I think there will have to be a different approach as well, with somebody appointed to help the new officials when they are starting out.”
The recent resurgence in Covid numbers is also a worry for Finnegan who admits they are facing a dual-threat to get games completed.
“Since we started the season in August we have played almost 170 games. We had three games postponed last weekend because of Covid concerns.
“We also came close to having to postpone games because we just didn’t have the refs to cover them, and if it wasn’t for the referees and the clubs helping us in changing the fixtures, the games wouldn’t have gone ahead.
“We are lucky that a lot of clubs have lights and can play night games, if we didn’t have those, we simply couldn’t continue.”
Finnegan is more than aware of the problems that Covid is causing and the even greater problems it could pose in the future.
The season kicked off with games in the Keane and Junior League Cup and the league is committed to completing those competitions, unless conditions worsen, but they are mainly focused on finishing out the league campaigns.
“We will play out the two league cup competitions and we will go ahead with the national and provincial cups.
“We want to play all of the leagues to a conclusion before we start the other local cup competitions. We don’t want to start those cups and have eight or 10 competitions up and running and end up in a place were we can’t finish them. That’s we why want to focus on the leagues.”
Finnegan has been doubling up as fixtures secretary since the start of the season, but that role is now been taking over by former referee Shane O’Flynn, though Finnegan will still be appointing officials for the games.
Another layer of games have been added to this weekend’s fixtures with the opening games in the Floodlit League on Monday.
“We have had to make a few adjustments to those games also, and there will be a 15-minute buffer between games to limit the contact between players.”