How referees prepare for All-Ireland Final day
By Cian O'Connell
On a balmy Tuesday evening only a dozen cars were left at the back of the Cusack Stand at Croke Park.
Days before the All Ireland Minor and Senior Finals GAA headquarters was quiet, but in the famous ground several people were focusing on a demanding challenge that must be embraced. Being an official in an All Ireland final in September brings both honour and responsibility.
Another Championship has nearly been completed, but those left in Box 688 were preparing and priming themselves for one of the great occasions in Irish sport at a pre All Ireland seminar.
Fergal Horgan will take charge of the Senior encounter, while Sean Cleere is the man in the middle for the Minor decider. The two referees were present alongside their respective umpiring teams. A last, but extremely thorough and informative run through of what is due to happen on Sunday was being held.
Sean Walsh, Chairman of the National Referees Development Body, was the first to speak setting the tone. "It is a savage week ahead, but more importantly you have a savage year behind you and you are here by virtue of the fact that you are refereeing at the highest level and you are on top of your game," Walsh remarked.
"I said last year, I said it the year before and I will say it again there is no bigger occasion or sporting event in Ireland than the All Ireland hurling final. It is one of the finest days of the year.
"It is a big occasion, with it comes big demands, big expectations. You are here because you are part of an elite group of referees. You have been chosen from that elite group to be part of one of the biggest occasions in the year. You are here on merit."
Walsh highlighted the relevance of all the officials working together. A mixture of purpose and unity is necessary. That is key according to Walsh.
"We have expectations for next weekend,” Walsh commented. “The most important thing is that when we leave here next Sunday that everybody has their job done to the best of their ability.
"We are going to stress one thing: teamwork. Teamwork from everybody. Without teamwork we will not be successful. If any of the teams coming here next Sunday don't play as a team they won't succeed. It is the same for us."
Walsh takes particular satisfaction and encouragement from the number of emerging referees being afforded a chance to shine. During his address Walsh acknowledged how officials are being rewarded. "The Referees Appointments Committee have so far this year picked four new referees for the National Football League Finals, two new referees for the National Hurling League Finals, and a new referee for the All Ireland Final," Walsh states.
"That is some core of new referees in 12 months. Again I will stress it is down to the background work that is happening continuously."
Games Administration and National Match Officials Manager Pat Doherty and Bernard Smith, National Fixtures and Project Administrator had an in depth presentation constructed. Everything is being done to assist the officials, who were willing and interested participants throughout the hour.
It commenced with a series of clips from the All Ireland series in which decisions from a series of video clips were analysed.
Horgan and Cleere were asked to give their verdict on what action was or wasn't taken during those calls. Others in the room were also allowed and encouraged to voice their views or opinions.
Aggressive fouling and technical fouls were the main talking points before talk switched to the role of umpire.
Examples of good positioning were provided with one of Horgan's umpires afforded praise for where he stood as an effort dropped short during Waterford's All Ireland Quarter-Final win over Wexford at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
Hawk-Eye was next on the agenda. All of the officials - the referee, four umpires, linesmen, sideline official, and review official are hooked up to the same system in Croke Park.
'If in doubt, check it out and better to call Hawkeye than have Hawkeye call you’ were the main messages from Doherty and Walsh.
Using the correct signal for Hawkeye was another issue quickly debated. The umpires must stay cool and composed.
Nothing will be left to chance. Seemingly small, but critical details are catered for ahead of the biggest hurling day in the year. From what time the officials will be collected at their hotels to how they leave Croke Park is documented.
Before this year's All Ireland SHC Final each player will be accompanied by a child wearing their club colours at 3.16 when Horgan and his team officials will make their way to the red carpet under the Hogan Stand. Two minutes later Uachtarán na hEireann Michael D Higgins and Uachtarán Chumann Luthchleas Gael Aogan O’Fearghail will join them.
A packed and expectant Croke Park will rock for this novel final pairing. Then at 3.30 the sliotar will be thrown in, the action will commence, and Horgan will let an eagerly anticipated game begin.