Referees’ chief highlights mental health fears after Crues penalty ‘human error’

Northern Ireland Referees’ Association chairman Paul Larkin has called for those within the Irish League to share the same empathy as Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter in the aftermath of Tuesday’s penalty mistake.

Wednesday, 2nd June 2021, 6:27 pm
Updated Wednesday, 2nd June 2021, 6:37 pm

The Crues lost out to Cliftonville in the European play-off semi-final after a penalty shoot-out in which Michael Ruddy’s decisive spot-kick was ruled as a miss but confirmed having crossed the line via television footage.

Northern Ireland Football League officials have plans to proceed as normal with Saturday’s final between Cliftonville and Larne, in which the winner secures qualification for the Europa Conference League and a minimum financial reward of over £200,000.

Baxter accepted private apologies by the match officials in the aftermath of the incident - a reaction Larkin has described as both ‘professional’ and ‘helping to diffuse the situation’ but in stark contrast to the social media response.

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Michael Ruddy (right) is consoled by Crusaders team-mate Declan Caddell following Tuesday’s penalty. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

Last month’s Irish Cup semi-final featured a controversial penalty shoot-out defeat for Crusaders when goalkeeper Jonny Tuffey was sent off for repeatedly coming off his line.

“I have every sympathy for Stephen and everyone connected to Crusaders,” said Larkin. “I must thank Stephen for his professional interview and how he dealt with everything in accepting the apologies and helping to diffuse the situation.

“A mistake was made and no-one is looking to make excuses, our match officials accept the responsibility and are selected for these high-profile fixtures on merit and past performance levels.

“Personally, I feel there was probably so much focus on the goalkeeper’s footing given the Irish Cup situation and that maybe played a part, on top of the mental fatigue of a such an important split-second decision coming at the end of normal and extra-time and a season of multiple games each week on top of a day job.

“There are not excuses but factors I think contributed to what was human error.

“The match officials have the full support of the Northern Ireland Referees’ Association and we would urge people to remember that those involved are people who love the game.

“To see the social media reaction was pretty alarming in a time when mental health concerns are so prominent...it was especially disturbing to read critical comments from those within the game who I’d expect to be more sympathetic towards mistakes.”

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