Officials busy preparing for Croke Park games
By Cian O'Connell
Just after 6pm on Tuesday cars began pulling into the GAA’s National Games Development Centre at Abbotstown.
It was one of those end of August evenings when returning to school was etched in the mind and a regular routine seemed set to be established again.
The summer brought fun and football, but no focus was being lost by the officials involved in Sunday’s All Ireland showpiece at Croke Park.
This seminar taking place 13 miles from the Jones Road venue is becoming a ritual for officials, who are benefitting from the event.
A sharp session with Aidan Brady, who has been overseeing the fitness of inter-county referees, was first on the agenda.
Referees David Gough and Noel Mooney were joined on the 4G surface by Conor Lane, Barry Cassidy, and Sean Hurson (senior) and Paddy Neilan, Brendan Cawley, and Jerome Henry (minor).
That was followed by a quick bite to eat before an informative talk was delivered by National Match Officials Manager Donal Smyth and National Referees' Development Committee Chairman Willie Barrett upstairs in the complex.
For 43 minutes clips were shown, topics debated, and views sought prior to a gathering of the officials with their respective umpire teams.
Barrett is adamant about the value of this exercise ahead of the September showpiece at GAA headquarters. “Absolutely, it is in preparation for the final, that is why we are here,” Tipperary native Barrett explains.
“We reflect on a few things that maybe we could have done better during the year, show that to the boys in a few clips. We also look at things we are doing well, but we need to keep our foot on the pedal for next weekend.
“We want to ensure that both finals are refereed to the very highest standards. I think in general we would feel we've had a very good year in football refereeing to date.
“We have 69 games gone and one game to go in senior, but that is the most important match of the year, next Sunday's final between Kerry and Dublin.”
During the past decade officials have found the meeting to be useful preparing for the national deciders. “They had a training run out with Aidan Brady,” Barrett adds. “That really focuses the mind on how important next weekend is.
“So for us the whole scene is about what we are going to do next weekend. We will reflect briefly on what we have done in the Championship to date, but we will be looking at next Sunday, and how we can approach and help these guys carrying out their duties over the weekend.
“We have some experienced guys in the panel, this year now David is doing his first final at senior. David has done the minor a couple of years ago, Noel is doing his first minor final, so he is stepping up the ladder. David is reaching the pinnacle of his career at the moment, refereeing his first senior final.
“It is a wonderful achievement for both of them. They are both looking forward very much to the occasion. For an occasion like that a lot of work goes into it throughout the year.
“They have taken onboard everything that has been said to them and they have certainly been high achievers in the year to date.”
Marty Duffy took charge of the 2009 All Ireland SFC Final and is adamant about how crucial the meeting is for all parties.
“It is an important night for the referees obviously, but it is an important night for their teams,” Duffy states.
“It is the night when they will sit together, the referee will talk through his plans for the day, what he expects. He will probably have gone through that with his own umpires, but he gets a chance to do it with the standby and his whole team.”
The referee will be surrounded by his usual four umpires, but Duffy stresses how relevant it is to forge a good working relationship together. “Everybody likes to referee the game, to be the man in the middle,” Duffy says.
“You have to remember that when you are in a backup role there will be a day when the tide will turn and somebody will be doing back up for you.
“So you have to do it to the best you can, you have to give them the most support you can. When your day comes someone else will look after you. If you don't have that in this room you are at nothing.”
That co-operation and teamwork element matters deeply according to Duffy. “I know sometimes the narrative around umpires can be that they are clubmates or family, but with the likes of David the people that are around him are the people that have been with him from the beginning,” Duffy adds.
“When I was doing it, I had two guys, who travelled for 19 years with me. While they might have been clubmates they still probably were some of the most experienced umpires in the country. That bond is important.
“David will be able to tell them exactly what he expects, what he wants, how he expects things to run, and if there is any little extra bits and pieces he wants them to do.”
For a quarter of an hour the two groups of officials (referee, two linesmen, sideline official, and four umpires) held separate discussions.
Then it was time to go through the logistics of the weekend. Nothing will be left to chance. Saturday night will be spent in the capital. Taxis bringing the officials to Croke Park from their hotel are booked.
Every detail has been scrutinised. Cork minors will dash on to the pitch at 12.36. Galway will follow at 12.38. Then the officials are set to hit the field at 12.40.
A similar schedule exists for the senior game when David Gough and his team will enter at 3.03. The pomp and ceremony of an All Ireland final brings challenges, but how to adequately deal with these issues is deliberated upon.
For the National Referees Development Committee the planning and plotting doesn’t stop. “After Sunday's games we already have planned the diary for the winter and how best we will approach the situation in January again, starting off with the League matches at the end of January,” Barrett admits.
“It will come around very quickly once September passes. You have to be ready the whole time. Refereeing is evolving, you will have new guys chomping at the bit looking forward to next year.
"Here we will be reflecting on how we can do things to the highest possible standard for Sunday's finals.
“That is our goal and aim, to give as much information as we can to the guys officiating on Sunday. We have to be ready for the unexpected, something that might take place.
“They are the last senior and minor inter-county Championship games of the year, two huge games, a sellout at Croke Park, we are very much aware of that.”
Ultimately Barrett is content with how the Gaelic Football Championship unfolded highlighting the effectiveness of Gough and Mooney.
“We are happy with the standard of refereeing throughout the Senior Championship,” Barrett acknowledges.
“We had 18 referees in the panel and all of them have performed to a very high standard. We are looking forward to Sunday with David Gough in the senior and Noel Mooney in the minor, they have both performed very well throughout the year. They are deserving of the accolade of refereeing the finals on Sunday.”
Three hours after pulling into the car park at Abbotstown the vehicles began heading for home. Sunday’s games are edging closer. In Cork, Galway, Kerry, and Dublin the desire is to acquire silverware.
Remaining confidently in command and control is the mission the officials want to accomplish with Tuesday’s on and off pitch briefings occupying a central role in the preparation.