The shocking sight of the referee lying prone on the ground during an underage game represents a real challenge for the GAA.

Jimmy Geoghegan: Referees should be protected more by the powers-that-be

The other week my duties involved me going out to cover a couple of hurling games spread out over a weekend. One evening I covered a game that was refereed by an official who likes to let play move along as much as he can, unhindered. He feels if he can let the game flow like the Boyne it will make for a more entertaining encounter - and perhaps he's right.

Some people however, don't agree with that approach. I know that because they have come up to me and made their views known, very forcefully.

The following evening after that game I attended another hurling encounter. This time the match official was eager to keep a tight rein on matters, to blow up for fouls as he perceived them. That is his style which is fine too. It may not lend itself to unhindered, fast-flowing fare but there is going to be less flashpoints in such an approach. Less likelihood of the game concluding in a tsunami of fists and flying boots.

During the course of that second game you could hear people connected to the teams involved - selectors, the coaches - shouting in from the sidelines giving out to the referee for blowing up for this or that.

The experiences over the two evenings reinforced something that I had realised for a long time. No matter what the approach of a referee it will be wrong in somebodys' eyes; one big reason why I for one am loathe to criticise them. Their job is impossible. We see in English football how often they get it wrong - and they're professionals with VAR to help them.

An interesting aspect of both hurling games was that some of the most vociferous criticism came from people whose team had lost. Was that coincidence or is the referee just a sounding board for the disappointment people feel when they did lose out and can't deal with it?

Another point the experiences of that weekend underlined - yet again - was that refereeing is an arduous, unforgiving, difficult job. Not that I'm the only one who thinks so. I've heard many people over the years saying in reference to match officials : "I don't know how they do it."

Yet speaking to referees they clearly get huge enjoyment from it. To this observer that's one of the great mysteries of our age, an eighth wonder of the world. They play vital roles in sporting organisations yet some people look on them as Public Enemy Number One.

The challenges facing referees are formidable; a reality that was dramatically underlined once more recently when the match official taking charge of an under-age GAA game in Roscommon was left lying on the ground needing medical attention. It has been proposed by Roscommon GAA that the perpetrator involved in that incident should receive a 96-week ban from GAA activities.

Not that the GAA is the only organisation left with the problem of people treating referees disgracefully. The other week I spoke to Pat Henry, someone who has spent 25 years refereeing in the North East Football League and the North Eastern Counties Schoolboys/girls League. He made the point that increasingly he finds the biggest problems these days are caused by managers, often of under-age teams, shouting at him in an aggressive fashion.

Pat made another point. People seem to think a referee is “fair game” as soon as he or she crosses the white line; that people can shout things at them they wouldn't shout in a street. Yet despite all that he loves taking charge of games.

The GAA however is arguably, where the deepest, strongest emotions among the greatest number of people - players, management, supporters - are stirred up. At least in this part of the world. That's where the authorities, the powers-that-be come in. They must support referees better by taking a zero tolerance approach, particularly to those who strike a match official. Coaches at underage level have a role too. They can teach youngsters from the earliest ages to learn to accept a referee's call - like they do in rugby. Referees must also stand up for themselves.

After that incident in Roscommon local referees went on a weekend strike. It should have been a nationwide stoppage to drive the point home.

We hear a lot about the shortage of referees in the GAA - and is it any wonder? So let's applaud those who do step forward and face the flak that invariably goes their way. They all deserve a medal, our thanks - and our respect.