Brian Gavin retires from inter-county refereeing
By John Harrington
Brian Gavin has retired from inter-county hurling refereeing.
The Offaly native was one of the most high-profile match officials in recent times, with his achievement of refereeing four All-Ireland Finals in just six years topping an impressive CV.
The most recent of those was the 2016 All-Ireland Final which saw Tipperary beat Kilkenny, but Gavin has no regrets about stepping away from the game so relatively soon after that high.
“I'll definitely miss it, there's no doubt, but I just feel I've come to the right decision,” he told GAA.ie.
“It's getting harder every year. Even though I'm only 40 I'm still 20 years older than some of the players, so it's getting tougher and tougher.
"I really enjoyed my time, I had four All-Ireland Finals and four Munster Finals. I'd probably say now I would have liked to get five All-Irelands, but when I started off I would have been thrilled with even one, never mind four. So, I definitely have no regrets.”
Throughout his inter-county refereeing career Gavin relied on the same four umpires for almost all of his matches. His father Michael, his brother David, his fellow Clara club-man William Flynn, and Ferbane-Belmont club-man PJ Lawlor.
“I'd say there were only one or two occasions when one of them might have been on holidays and I had to use someone else,” said Gavin.
“They've been with me since day one. People in refereeing would understand when I say reliable umpires are crucial to have. One or two bad umpires could bring you down, but I was steeped lucky with the four lads I have.
“And luckily enough one of them was my father and one of them was brother which always added to All-Ireland Finals because my brother would have brought his family as well. We had marvellous days, especially in the build up to the All-Irelands.”
Those four All-Irelands were all special, but when asked to pick the most memorable match he refereed, Gavin opts for a less obvious choice.
“I suppose the greatest game ever was the qualifier in 2013 between Kilkenny and Tipp down in Nowlan Park,” he said.
“That even surpassed the All-Irelands. Memories like that from games like that are very special and I'll definitely miss being involved in those.
“I was lucky enough to be on the pitch with some of the greatest hurlers we've ever seen. The likes of Tommy Walsh, Seamus Callanan, Joe Canning, Henry Shefflin, all of them.
“And then lucky enough when you get to referee an All-Ireland Final you get to go on the All-Star trip and you get to know the lads a good bit more which is great.”
Not surprisingly, the 2016 All-Ireland Final was a particularly satisfying experience for Gavin.
He didn’t have to produce a single card of any hue over the course of the contest and was widely praised afterwards for contributing to the free-flowing nature of the match.
“It's fairly seldom in refereeing that you'd get that much praise,” said Gavin. “I suppose that match just worked a dream for me from start to finish.
“I had no yellow-card or red-card to give out and I think there was only about 20 frees. I was really confident going into that final even though there was a little bit of pressure on me.
“Tipperary people felt that my refereeing style suited Kilkenny and were probably a little bit wary going into the final, but they definitely had no complaints coming out of it because it was a class match and Tipperary just gave an exhibition that day.”
Gavin believes he was never fitter than he was going into that 2016 All-Ireland Final, and reckons the biggest challenge for inter-county referees nowadays is to keep pace with the increasing speed and endurance of the average county hurler or footballer.
“The modern player is so fit now it's just unbelievable,” he said.
“It's a challenge for referees as well to raise their standards but I have to say in the last 10 or 15 years that the standard of fitness of referees has gone well up above wherever it was and you can see it now in matches because referees are covering between 10 and 12 kilometres.
“I think in the 2016 All-Ireland Hurling Final I covered 11 kilometres. I'd be a big broad fella and it would take a lot of work to get me fit but when I got fit I could maintain it.
“I never felt as good as I did that time. I remember in the last five minutes I was just really flying, and that's because I'd done a lot of work that year.
“Referees just have to do that hard work every year and repeating that hard work over a long period of time is the difficult part.”
Refereeing at the highest level is a challenging vocation, but Gavin has nothing but words of encouragement for those who might feel it’s a path worth following.
“The earlier you take it up the better chance you have of getting to a high level,” he said. “We need to be encouraging lads in their mid-twenties to try to give it a go and see what they think of it.
“Once you get to a level where you're out on the pitch with these top players, it's hugely enjoyable.
“It's worth a couple of years of sacrifice and hard work to make it that far. I've really enjoyed refereeing and I would recommend it to anybody.
“I left no stone unturned and that's why I have no regrets now walking away from it. And I’d like to be involved in refereeing going forward too and helping out in any way I can.”
Brian Gavin Factfile
Club: Clara (Also chairman of the Club)
Brian’s umpires for the majority of his career were; Michael Gavin, David Gavin, William Flynn (all Clara) and PJ Lawlor (Ferbane/Belmont).
Four All-Ireland Senior Hurling Finals
2011 Kilkenny v Tipperary
2013 Clare v Cork
2014 (Replay) Kilkenny v Tipperary
2016 Kilkenny v Tipperary
All-Ireland Minor Hurling final
2004 (Replay) Galway v Kilkenny
All-Ireland U21 Hurling Final
2006 (Replay) Kilkenny v Tipperary
All-Ireland Senior Club Hurling Final
2006 Portumna v Newtownshandrum
Four Munster Senior Hurling Finals
2010 (Replay) Waterford v Cork
2011 Tipperary v Waterford
2014 Cork v Limerick
2016 Tipperary v Waterford
38 Senior Championship Games Refereed – (2004 to 2017)
1st USHC Antrim v Derry
38th Kilkenny v Limerick
Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Final
2016 – Waterford v Clare