James Owens relishing All-Ireland Final buzz
By John Harington
This isn’t just game-week for the Tipperary and Kilkenny hurlers, but also for James Owens who will referee Sunday’s All-Ireland SHC Final.
The experienced Wexford whistler was also the man in the middle for the 2018 and 2015 Finals, so he’s no stranger to the big occasion.
And, just like the players who will be involved on Sunday, he’s done everything he possibly can to make sure he’s physically and mentally primed for the test to come.
“We've had dieticians and different people in with us recommending what we should be doing leading into a match,” said Owens of his All-Ireland Final preparations.
“We will start with a seminar for all the match officials on the Tuesday before the All-Ireland Final.
“There we'll run through a number of video clips which will be mostly positive footage of why you've been picked to referee the All-Ireland Final.
“They'll pick out good examples of refereeing and that's important because it puts you in a positive frame of mind and reinforces the sort of decisions you need to make in the Final in different scenarios.
“That gets everyone switched and you start to really get into match-mode where we're watching what we eat and try to get into a regular sleep-pattern, all that sort of stuff.”
Owens comes across as a very calm and collected sort of character, which is no bad thing for a referee about to step into the maelstrom of a Kilkenny-Tipperary All-Ireland Final.
The way he sees it, an occasion such as an All-Ireland isn’t something to be feared, but relished.
“The buzz around it is something totally different,” said Owens. “Once word broke that I was refereeing it, the phone-calls and good wishes came flooding in.
“That's when the buzz starts and it leads all the way up to the match. The weekend itself, we're up in Dublin for the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday so we're treated to a great weekend.
“We're kept away from where the big atmosphere is building in Dublin City Centre, but we're in our own atmosphere with all the senior and minor final match officials and their families.
“There could be 40 to 50 of us in that circle on the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. And there's a great atmosphere because we're all referees and there's a nice camaraderie there.
“I remember saying to the linesmen who were with me last year when the team started going around in the parade we were the only ones in the middle of the field and I said to the lads, look it, there's 82,000 people who are going to be cheering, just take everything in because we are going to be involved in a game in three minutes time.
“To be standing on the middle of the field at that point when the team starts to with the parade, the atmosphere is just incredible, and we're right in the middle of it. That's just something to behold.”
Owens admits he’s no different to any other referee in so far as he finds it a lot easier to settle into the game if he gets his first call right, but he doesn’t think the All-Ireland Final is significantly more nerve-wracking than any other match he officiates.
“I was asked recently do I get nervous before a match and, obviously, there is a point where you get nervous in every game,” said Owens.
“I take every game as seriously as the next because I want to referee them all to the very best of my ability every day I go out whether it's an U-12 match in Wexford or an All-Ireland Final.
“The pressure of it, the media do focus in on every decision that we do make so you try to get all your calls right.
“You're not going to get every single one of them right, but as long as I can come off the field and I have got 95 per cent of those decisions right, then I'll be very, very happy.”