Fáilte chuig gaa.ie - suíomh oifigiúil CLG
Barry Kelly during the 2016 All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final between Tipperary and Galway at Croke Park.

Barry Kelly during the 2016 All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final between Tipperary and Galway at Croke Park.

Referee Kelly happy to reach milestone

By Cian O'Connell

Referee Barry Kelly has taken charge of 51 All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship matches.

The Westmeath native, who has refereed All Ireland Finals in 2006, 2008, 2012, and 2014, talks to GAA.ie about his career.

On the inter-county circuit since 1999 the widely respected Kelly remains one of the leading hurling officials.

Kelly was recently honoured with a Gold Award (recognising referees who have done more than 50 Championship games) at the GAA Referees Banquet.

Q: It is a significant achievement to referee 51 Championship matches, you must to be delighted to have reached that figure?

A: Yeah, I was talking to David Coldrick at the Referees Banquet and David had no idea how many games he had done, maybe I'm more vain, but I knew. There is a guy called Leo McGeough, he is from Carlow, I've never actually met him, but I have seen his work. It was in The Sunday Tribune years ago and The Sunday Times have him now during the Championship. About six or seven years ago he had a list of Hurling Championship appearances by referees.

I remember Dickie Murphy had 48 then, I remember at the time, which was at least six or seven years ago, I had 28 or 29, I was just behind Willie Barrett. At the time I was thinking when I was 36 or 37 years of age that I could have another six or seven years left in me and if I got three or four matches a year I would be close to Dickie at least. I left it on the backburner for a while and forgot about it, but around a year ago, I emailed Leo just out of curiosity because I was wondering how many I had done.

He told me I had 46 or 47 so I knew during the summer that I wasn't a million miles off 50. I wasn't entirely sure, but between hitting 50 and reaching Dickie's record I knew I was close. 

Q: To be operating at the highest level for so many years it must be a great source of satisfaction being involved in high profile matches?

A: Yeah, Leo very kindly sent me on an email of the matches I did. I wasn't sure, to be honest, genuinely I wasn't sure about when I started senior inter-county refereeing. I know I did the All Ireland Minor Final back in 2000 so you'd have to be there or thereabouts at that stage.

I wasn't entirely sure, but I started in 1999, he even gave me a list of the various counties that I had refereed. Ulster counties featured prominently early on, then I reffed Cork more than any other county.

Q: There are more football games taking place during the Championship so it must have been nice to be rewarded at the GAA Referees Banquet?

A: Absolutely, if you average it out. For us if you do the Final you'll get four matches and that is if you do the Final. Otherwise you'll maybe only do three or possibly two at times so I'm 18 years inclusive at this stage and it is nice to acknowledge it.

To get the Gold Medal was nice and to be the first hurling referee to get across that particular rubicon in a way. Brian Gavin has 37 or 38 done, he is only 39 years of age so Brian can do as many as he wants within reason. He has the ability to do 60 or 70 matches if he stays at it, which he probably will.

Q: In your time refereeing, which spans the guts of two decades, how has the game changed and how different is it refereeing a game now compared to when you started?

A: I think the style of refereeing has probably evolved in the sense that maybe you have more experience. You know what to let go or what not to let go. So maybe I would think that hurling is thriving over the last 20 odd years, not because of me or anything, but I think it is a cleaner game at inter-county level. There are very few of the old style type hatchet man, lads digging off the ball, that doesn't tend to happen much now.

You have seven or eight pairs of eyes of officials on them, camera angles, virtually every Championship match is televised. Maybe players know each other better too, they go to College together, they play Fitzgibbon Cup together, they know each other more because of social media and so on. Maybe there is less antagonistic rivalry, they are still rivals, but they are also friends.

Q: Being a referee must be something you love doing having picked it up at a relatively young age?

A: I do, in the last two summers I have refereed Tipperary and Galway in the All Ireland Semi-Finals both years, Tipperary won this year by a point, Galway won last year by a point, and they were two massive games of hurling. It was a pleasure to be there and to be involved. What I do find, I am 46 now, at this time of the year and in January that hitting targets for fitness tests for February and trying to match up against lads who are 12-15 years younger.

There are lads there that could still probably play club senior hurling or even inter-county hurling, they are training away as referees. The fitness element, staying in condition and having motivation that does get a bit more difficult. I wouldn't anticipate - and I can do four more years up to 50 - and I have my doubts that I will. I would imagine one, at a stretch two to the very maximum. I would love to stay involved, doing linesman and things like that, but I have serious doubts that I will be refereeing inter-county Championship in four years time.

Q: In Westmeath you also referee club football matches?

A: I do, I have refereed one Westmeath Football Final and I've refereed maybe six or seven Hurling Finals. I have probably refereed more football than hurling in Westmeath because of the fact that there are more football clubs. Where I am in Mullingar there are plenty of football clubs around so you get plenty of matches.

I do both, having said that, I'm glad that years ago I was ordered or told which to do. I do think inter-county football refereeing is a much more difficult job than hurling. I think any referee that does both at club level would think the same. Hurling is get the ball and propel it quickly at long distances, that is still the name of the game really, football it is keep possession at all costs which tends to lead to confrontations and all the players in one half of the field. Hurling, move it quickly, and let the man win the ball then.

Q: Nowadays with so many fitness assessments and seminars would you be close to other inter-county referees. What is the dynamic there?

A: Yeah, obviously things like the Referees Awards are great socially, if you looked into the room and saw us you'd see that some lads are really close friends. That is one thing and an aspect that I will miss in the sense that we are together now. They have separated football seminars from hurling seminars, we would still see the football guys the odd time, but not as much.

There are a smaller band of hurling referees, but there is a camaraderie there. We are all kind of semi-rivals in a way in that we are all out to get the matches, but we are there to support each other. We are colleagues and that is the one thing I will seriously miss. When that goes, when you are off the panel, you won't have as much contact because that is simply the way it is.

Official Sponsors of the GAA Football All-Ireland Championship

Official Sponsors of the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Championship