TWO of Clare’s best known soccer referees have been honoured by their peers for their contribution to the game.
Paddy Dunne, a founder member of the Clare Soccer Referees Association and now its president, was honoured for his contribution to the branch since its formation in 1971, while Padraic Sutton, one of the branch’s younger members, was honoured for his achievement in achieving FIFA qualification.
For Paddy Dunne, it was a nostalgic and emotional occasion on Monday night, as he was joined by some of his fellow referees from the early 1970s at the West County Hotel.
Clare Referees chairman Frankie Coote paid tribute to both men and said he was particularly delighted with the attendance.
“Both presentations are merited. Paddy Dunne has been a member of this branch since it was formed. If we are the branch then Paddy Dunne is definitely the root, as he was part of it since the start. He has kept us together. To be a good referee, you need a good family and all those that were there at the start had that,” he said, making the presentation to Paddy.
“Officially, we formed the branch in January 1971,” Paddy Dunne told The Clare Champion after saying he was “embarrassed that the branch have decided to do this”.
“You had to have 10 members at that time to have a branch. I suppose we were illegal as we didn’t have 10 and we put in the names of the members of the league to make up the numbers. We had Carl O’Neill, Paddy Cooney, Pat O’Brien and Seamus Reidy to mention some and we worked away.”
Paddy was involved with the Newmarket club at the time and managed a number of their teams.
“Carl O’Neill was a great friend of mine and we realised that there was a shortage of referees, so we decided we would try and get this thing off the ground. We got fellas like Seamus Hughes and Gerard Kennedy and we had a couple from Shannon. We, eventually, got 10, who were there every Sunday. They all had to do two matches.
“The older referees were left to their own way of promoting the game in comparision to the present day. Our inspector only came here once a year from Cork and he would stay for the weekend. One of us would pick him up from the station and bring him here.
“He would attend a youths game on a Saturday and then it would be back to the hotel for a meeting to deal with the laws of the game. On Sunday morning, one of us would be free and we would take him to games and he would see about 15 to 20 minutes to see a few games. That was the way it was done. He would come back here then and we would discuss what he had seen,” he explained.
“Back then, we supported each other and we would attend each other’s games, after which we would talk about whether or not we had made the right decisions. I’d be afraid to talk to one of the new referees today because they have gone through a series of education and they would ask what are we talking about.
“In the early days, we would ask one another if we did the right thing. We would meet once a fortnight and every fella raised what he had done and what incidents he had to deal with. The book would be brought out by Carl and we would discuss if the right decision was made or not,” he continued.
Did he ever think about giving up refereeing? “Never,” came the reply. “I should have my backside kicked at home because I left family sick at times and went off refereeing.”
What were the highlights of his career over the years? “Not many, my face never fitted. Unfortunately, I can’t do anything about that. In all the years I spent here, I only got one outside game and in that match, we were very fortunate. It was in the Desmond League and we all got ratings of nine. My face never fitted because I said it as I saw it,” he said.
He continued, “There were many, many years before I refereed a cup final and it was a credit to the then fixtures secretary, Noel Pilkington, who said to me in Shannon on St Patrick’s Day that I would be doing the cup final. I never worried whether I was doing cup finals or an U-12 game. There were 22 players abroad in the field and it was the same laws for U-10 as for the World Cup final. Whatever fixture appeared on the paper, I took it and went away and shut my mouth. I was never in it for glory hunting. Many’s the time I finished a match and went home and was having my dinner when I got a call that there was a referee needed and I went,” said the man who returned to Clare from London in January 1967 and immediately got involved with Newmarket.
From 1969 onwards, he was refereeing on a regular basis. “There were a number of people in positions of power over the years who had the power to make appointments and for some reason they didn’t. A lot of good referees gave up refereeing because of this. I was lucky enough to be invited to take charge of European airport championship games and I refereed in Manchester, Copenhagan, Vienna and Malta. I had the privilege of refereeing with FIFA referees, English top premier referees who lined for me and I lined for them. Every year, I was invited back and that was my personal gratification. I did not let the branch down,” he said, adding “I was never in it for anything other than the enjoyment I got from it.
“The night that Padraig Sutton was awarded his first FIFA badge, I could have cried my eyes out, I felt so proud. The branch was one of my children and as far as I was concerned I had seen one of the children graduating with a masters degree. That was fantastic for a little branch like Clare. We now have three League of Ireland men, one a FIFA man. The branch hasn’t done so bad at all,” he noted.
With reference to schoolboys soccer he said, “In all our early days, all of the old referees never charged for refereeing schoolboys or youths games. That was our way of putting something back into the game. We had the privilege of doing the Community Games Munster finals and Roy Keane played in one of those. We always did those games free. I feel very strongly about that,” he said.
“Pro rata per numbers, the quality of refereeing in Clare was as good as any county in Ireland when we started out. Many years ago, Noel Bennett went to the League of Ireland where he spent 11 years. Many years ago, Seamus Reidy, myself and Paddy Cooney had the opportunity to go. Now, not alone have we a League of Ireland man, we have a FIFA man,” he added.
According to Paddy, the referee is there for the protection of the players and, secondly, to see that the laws of the game are adhered to.
He agreed that while the game has progressed, “there were brilliant players there in the ’60s. Clare won an inter-league youths competition in 1971 with three clubs against the Galways, the Waterfords, the Limericks and the Dublins. There were excellent players there then,” he stressed.
“In those times, we always found a reason to play the game and not a reason not to play the game. That was our first priority,” he concluded.
Referee inspector Tony Ryan paid tribute to Padraic Sutton on his progress to the FIFA panel.
“This honour is well deserved, he has worked really hard to get to where he is today. There is a lot of hard work involved and one has to be really dedicated to get to this level,” he said.
Ennis man Sutton started refereeing in 1997 when Noel Coughlan, a friend of the family, encouraged him to give it a go.
Paying tribute to the branch for the support he has received, he said, “Every referee makes mistakes and I have yet to meet one who won’t make a mistake. You have to have huge support and this branch has been fantastic”.
Sports Editor Seamus Hayes