It is no secret that being a referee is not the most glamorous job in the world, I doubt too many kids grow up dreaming of being the man in the middle of the field. Unlike a player, you are never the centre of attention when things are going well but when they go tits up, then you are the only one they are looking at.
Of course though, without referees, then there are no games, simple as, and I think people forget this sometimes. To be fair though, the GAA are lucky that they have thousands of the best referees in the country who know the rule book like the back of their hand, it is just a pity they are all in the stands or sitting on a bar stool. I always say well lads, put your whistle where your mouth is.
Before Christmas, there was a story from Clare on how they did not actually know if they would get their full programme of games played due to a shortage of referees. I doubt they are the only county with that problem, in fact I would say there are plenty. It is something that could become a problem in the very near future. Of course being a referee is a thankless job, damned if you do and damned if you don’t, but for the ones who are out there, well there must be some good points to keep them at the job.
I sat down recently with inter-county referee Patrick Murphy for a chat. The Carlow man is on the National Hurling list of referees and has slowly worked his way up the ladder over the last few years.
“Well I started refereeing in Carlow in 2007; only twelve months later I was selected as Carlow Juvenile referee of the year which after only a year with the whistle was a great award to receive.”
“A couple of years later I was awarded Senior Referee of the year in Carlow, although the year escapes me!”
“I joined the Leinster panel in around 2008 or 2009 so quick enough after I had actually started refereeing, at that stage I had to choose Hurling or Football and even though I played both, I picked Hurling as it is my first love and my passion.”
Patrick himself played to a high level, playing senior hurling for Carlow for a couple of seasons, while with his club Ballinkillen he won a senior hurling championship medal and went all the way to the senior footbal final with their sister football club Fenagh, he still hurls with the clubs second string.
When he took up refereeing he would have been reffing lads who he would have played with and against for Carlow and at club level. While some might see this as an advantage as they would have been familiar with each other, Patrick doesn’t see it this way as when you are the referee, it doesn’t matter what you did in the past as a player, once you put on that black jersey you are the referee and your past history doesn’t count.
“I got into refereeing at the start as I was one of those people while watching matches only saw frees going one way, and that was my team’s way so I wanted to put my money where my mouth was and to try and see things from the man in the middle’s point of view.”
“I am a passionate Ballinkillen man but I have no problem saying that I was once the guy who could only see the frees going one way, well now I can’t even stand with the club supporters at games as I can get in to arguments with some of those lads who only see the frees going one way where as of now I am looking at the refs decision and agreeing or sometimes not as it happens, but either way taking up the whistle has taught me to see things from a different perspective.”
“I love refereeing and a lot of people don’t realise the time and commitment that goes in to being a national ref.”
“We all do a fitness test in January before the start of the National League and we have to hit 16.5 in the beep test so all over Christmas when it might be time to enjoy yourself, we are working hard over those weeks and months to achieve that pass mark. As National referees we don’t get paid, all we get is expenses, although I’m sure some people think we are in it for the money so hopefully this sets that straight!”
“We get 50 cent per mile and a meal allowance for which we have to produce an original till receipt and that is the exact same if you refereeing the All Ireland final or merely the fourth official.”
“All in all though, I have to say that I love refereeing, one of the things I love about it is the friends I have made over the years who will stay with me forever. It is very heart-warming when you turn up to support your niece in her U-16 All Ireland final and you bump in to one of the all-time greats like Joe Canning and you can call each other by your first names having refereed the Walsh Cup final with Galway in 2017, to be able to have a chat with there and to be able to get him to stand in for some pictures with your kids, these are the days you know all the hard work was worthwhile.”
“A few years back I was selected to referee the Lory Meagher Cup final in Croke Park which was huge and I would be hopeful to get back there again someday. I also was the man in the middle for the Leinster U-21 HC final in 2013 final between Kilkenny and Wexford and again that was another huge moment for me.”
“The hard work is continuing to pay off as only this year I was selected to referee the Division 1B game between Galway and Laois. Refereeing in a way is just like playing, it can be cruel of course but in different ways. You do however; I think need a bit a bit of a break to break into the big scene and thankfully things have fallen for me since I took up the whistle. The bottom line is we need referees, every county is the same and in the near future it could become a huge problem due the lack of. At county level, there is the cut-off point of fifty when you have to retire and then at club level, it is the opposite where it is harder to retire as there is just not enough doing it.”
“Refereeing is something I have got a huge amount out of since I took it up and I would encourage any person, young or old, that if they any way considering or even thinking about picking up a whistle, then absolutely, go for it as you might be surprised just how much you might enjoy it.”
“Look, yes you do get abuse every now and then but when you walk off the field after a game and it has gone well then you get a sense of fulfillment that you done your job right, the same as a player I suppose, and when you see players coming up afterwards shaking your hand regardless of how the result went then you know you have made the right choice.”