It might not be this year or next year, but the day is not that far over the horizon.  The day when Referee Administrator Sean Curran, or whoever may succeed him, will have a decimated pool of officials to pick from. 

Ogra Colmcille made a decision to withdraw from senior football this year as their playing resources wouldn't meet the demand of another season.

Ardmore, Glack, Doire Colmcille and Sean Dolan's have also conceded games.  But in these cases, the weekend fixture programme just sidestepped around them and carried on.

The referee situation is different.  If the current referee shortage continues, local GAA will be on its knees.  It will be too late.

We might not always agree with their decisions, but without referees the association can't function.

The peak week of this season was April 7.  It signalled the commencement of divisions 1A and 1B, on top of round four in division 2.

Including reserve football, there were 28 games which dropped to 27 the following weekend.  If every club fielded a reserve team, it would rise to 30.

Based on a survey of referees, as listed on the fixtures section of the official Derry GAA website, 41 referees have taken charge of at least one adult football game - senior or reserve.

Dan Mullan, who refereed the 2015 SFC final, is now the Glenullin Chairman and hasn't refereed any games.

Benny Quinn, who handled the following year's senior final, is part of the Ballinascreen senior management team, with Adrian McGilligan part of Glack's backroom team.

Add in 2014 final referee Anthony Campbell, who was part of Derry's senior management team and Peter O'Connor stepping aside, it leaves the Derry referee panel stripped of significant experience.

This level of transparency and accountability, I feel, would be a starting point at building up relationships with referees, players and fans.

Of the 41 who took charge of adult league action this year, 32 have refereed senior games and of that, 23 refereed to division 1A level.

For another four, the highest level was division 1B, which was the most competitive of all.  The other five refereed only in division two.

It is believed that Barry Toland, a former county final referee himself, has again stepped down after coming back to take charge of two division 2 games.

The numbers are worrying.  Yes, on the face of it, it does add up.  But beneath the surface, cracks begin to appear.

On any given day, a referee may be injured or even unavailable due to work or personal commitments.

Below that again, lies a deeper problem with clubs objecting to referees or the officials themselves refusing to travel to certain clubs.

Combine that with the need to send an experienced referee to a crunch relegation battle or a clash of teams with a history of animosity and you can see the picture is far from rosy.

As this column stated last week, the competitive leagues are leaving games almost impossible to referee.

Those in charge will make mistakes, some of which can be major and can have catastrophic implications for clubs.  But don't forget, managers make poor selection calls, players can win and lose games by some of their actions. Who doesn't make mistakes?

Perhaps like players getting dropped and managers getting the sack, referees need to be under the spotlight too.

All championship games are videoed by Derry GAA and an increasing amount of league games are also recorded, which can also be requested by the county board.

Derry have a full-time performance analyst and any game changing decision need to be shown back to referees, with feedback on where they went wrong.

The resources are available, so referees should get the same treatment as players.  Those who continue to make the wrong calls should be demoted.  Likewise, those who get decisions spot on can be rewarded with the bigger games.

This level of transparency and accountability, I feel, would be a starting point at building up relationships with referees, players and fans.  Perhaps I am looking through rose tinted glasses, but something has to change.

However, it is a two way street and as it stands at the minute the constant barrage of abuse is off the richter scale.

From week to week, I take in more than my fair share games all over the county.  On many occasions myself, Mary K and the referee can be the only three neutrals in the ground.

I can appreciate that GAA is a very important part of our lives and especially this season, there is so much at stake.

But the level of vitriol hurled over fences is nothing ordinary, with a sizeable portion directed at the referee.  Honest to God, if recorded on camera, it would go viral.

The language, at times, it totally unacceptable.  How would it entice anyone into taking up the whistle?

Last season referees Dan Mullan and Damien Harkin were both allegedly assaulted by supporters after championship matches.  Crazy stuff.

Two referees – Harkin and Harry Tohill - have already been subject to alleged physical abuse this season.  There was an instance of a referee being followed after a game, a new referee took up the whistle last week and endured a barrage of abuse.

An U14 referee a few seasons ago, quit after a series of late night phone calls from a member of one of the participating clubs.

How is any of this going to help?

Their disciplinary system doesn't do the GAA any favours, with endless loop-holes open for exploitation.  From the point of view of a supporter being banned, sure they will be back on a sideline the following week hollering abuse.

Derry GAA and Sean Curran cannot control individuals who are beyond control of their own clubs, but a zero tolerance approach needs proposed, outlined and adopted.  The officials need to be backed.

Otherwise there is going to be nobody left.  Alan Nash has muted that he will no longer be refereeing hurling games.

As a former Kevin Lynch's referee, he should never have been put in charge of their clash with Banagher, with Dungannon's Barry Winters taking charge of Swatragh's game at home to Slaughtneil.

Nash made an error, in recording the final score, which he later rectified.

Is it any wonder, with the constant verbal abuse he had to endure.  How would anybody concentrate?

Tarlach Conway received the same when Slaughtneil hosted the Lynch's the following week.  Only last weekend, Sean McGuigan was constantly under fire from Drumsurn fans.

As a former work colleague, who was also a referee, said to me on numerous occasions.

“Do you think I have left my house and family this evening to do your son out of a game,” he would say to irate parents who constantly questioned his decisions.

We won't always agree with the referee, but without them we won't have any games.

Senior football referees

Listed below are the referees and the amount of division 1A, 1B and 2 games they have officiated at.

The figures are based on the Official Derry GAA website and the numbers breakdown is as follows: Div 1A, Div 1B, Div 2 (Total)

Richie Donoghue                3,7,3 (13)
Terence McElhinney          4,1,5 (10)
Harry Tohill                         2,4,4 (10)
Mervyn McAleese               6,3,0 (9)
Gregory McWilliams          4,3,2 (9)
JJ Cleary                                 4,3,2 (9)
Mark O’Neill                        2,3,4 (9)
Cathal Doherty                     3,1,5 (9)
Emmet McShane                 4,2,2 (8)
Kieran O’Connor                  4,3,1 (8)
Michael McLaughlin           3,3,2 (8)
Damien Harkin                    3,2,3 (8)
Gavin Hegarty                      1,3,4 (8)
Alan Nash                             2,3,2 (7)
Aidan McAleer                     1,2,4 (7)
Sean McGuigan                    3,3,0 (6)
Maurice Corrigan                 1,3,1 (5)
Niall Kearney                       0,3,2 (5)
Terence McGilligan            0,1,4 (5)
Cathal Forbes                       2,2,0 (4)
Barry Cassidy                      4,0,0 (4)
Kieran Brolly                       0,0.4 (4)
Declan O’Connor                 1,1,1 (3)
Gearóid O’Neill                    1,1,1 (3)
Mark McGeehan                  1,0,2 (3)
Anthony Mullan                  0,0,3 (3)
Anthony Campbell              1,1,0 (2)
Martin Donnelly                  0,0,2 (2)
Barry Toland                        0,0,2 (2)
Thomas Devlin                    0,1,0 (1)
Martin O’Connor                 0,1,0 (1)
EP Cassidy                            0,0,1 (1)

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