CLARE referees are getting old and their representative association in the county is very keen to recruit up to 30 new whistlers for an upcoming training course.
There are 39 active referees currently, with 70% of them over 40 and 10% over 60.
Inter-county referees Rory Hickey and Rory McGann are adamant that a new injection of younger folk in black is imperative, with just five referees aged under 30.
“We’re getting older. Clubs might be sick of looking at us but there is no one else. In Clare, we have an older demographic in our referees’ association. We need to be pumping new people into it,” Rory Hickey told The Clare Champion this week.
Hickey has been refereeing since 2000 and has taken charge of seven county finals, while Rory McGann took charge of the 2016 drawn hurling final. Both are aiming to make it back to the list of inter-county referees this year and will know this weekend, following a fitness test at Abbotstown in Dublin.
“There has been no game called off but I think we’re not far off it if we don’t replenish the numbers,” McGann warned with reference to the numbers issue in the county.
Interestingly, Hickey feels that new referees might not be best served in officiating at underage fixtures, due to issues with parents who are only interested in their children winning.
“The mammies and daddies go bananas on the sideline. We’ve all seen it. It’s way easier to do a junior league game than U-16 football or hurling. Juniors will accept any referee that turns up. An underage game is like an All-Ireland final for some of the mammies. It’s something we might have to look at. At least you’re dealing with adults in the junior matches. There seems to be a hard and fast rule that you have to do underage,” he reflected.
Referees in Clare take charge of 720 adult games, 452 underage hurling and 300 underage football matches, on top of 2,000 blitzes, challenges and Cumann na mBunscoil fixtures.
Approximately half of local clubs have no referee. Cratloe provide five, followed by Wolfe Tones, Clonlara and Ruan with three each. “Ambrose Heagney is gone and there are a few registered that aren’t active. There are 54 clubs, so you’re talking about nearly 50% of clubs that have no referee. Some clubs are very good but we need more,” McGann said.
Referees will not end up with bulging bank accounts if they start whistling regularly. They are paid €30 in expenses for underage games, €37.50 for adult league and €40 for adult championship.
“Referees get €50 a game in Galway,” Hickey noted, pointing out that if Jim Hickey (Cratloe) travels to West Clare, along with four umpires, his fee would hardly feed them.
“We did look to have a bit of parity with other counties but we were told the funding was a bit bleak. They did give us a €2.50 rise for league games, which brought it up to €37.50. No one does it for the money but there are a couple of things, like the money, the amount of time for notifications and gear, that would make it a bit more attractive. There is a bit of gear there sometimes but it needs to be a little bit more free-flowing. If we could bring it more in line with other counties, that would be helpful and it’s something we’ll be working towards. Telling a lad on a Wednesday that he has two games at the weekend when a bit of paper comes in the post, is ridiculous,” McGann maintained.
Both have young families and feel that along with referees who work shifts and need to swap, they must know earlier when and where they are down for a game.
“You’d have some chance if you had 10 days notice, to swap around a shift or get some time off. You’ve no chance if you have four days notice,” Hickey said.
At inter-county level, referees receive a text 10 days before a game, asking are they available for a particular fixture or not. They text Y or N in reply.
“In Clare, lads sit down on a Monday and decide the referees. They have their own way of doing it. Sometimes you get a bit of massaging going on, especially around championship time. A referee mightn’t hear until Wednesday that he is doing a game or he might see it in the paper on a Thursday. Even seven days notice would be a start,” McGann commented, while Hickey feels that the meetings should take place a week and a half in advance of fixtures.
“They’re stuck with the Monday night in Clareabbey. That’s fair enough but why couldn’t they go on a Wednesday with the 10 days in mind? Cusack Cup games should be mapped out three or four weeks in advance. For championship, you’re talking about eight games and 24 fellas and fourth officials at certain venues. I started bringing the likes of Niall Malone and Kevin Brennan as linesmen. Kevin did the course and Niall has now taken it up. He’s a serious referee. I’ve seen him ref adult challenge matches, which can be testing at times. But his decision-making is as good as I’ve seen.
He’s in his mid-20s and he’s at a good age for coming on. He loves it. But retention is the big thing. Doing the course is grand but trying to retain fellas is the toughest thing we try to do as an association,” Hickey has found.
“As an association, it’s up to us to get the word out there. Market it. I don’t think Croke Park do enough in that way. I know they do a day for club referees in Croke Park but it’s further down the line they need to be going. Make it attractive for the Niall Malones and Chris Maguires. There was a big thing a few years ago when Pat McAnaney was looking for retired inter-county lads. They don’t want to know about it. They have given 15 to 20 years. You need to go way back down the line and catch fellas that are maybe a sub on their senior team or playing junior. They might be injured or they are enthusiastic but just don’t have the skill-set to play senior football or hurling. They’re the type of fellas we should be looking at. We need to be making these guys career GAA referees. We fell into refereeing but we now need to target fellas and pick them out in clubs. That’s why I think that it comes back to club chairmen and secretaries, who are around these lads and know them,” he added.
Hickey accepts that the Clare Referees’ Association needs to do some work in relation to recruiting new members but he feels the county board need to step it up too.
“The other onus is on the county board, the chairman and the secretary. They need to advertise this in a big way and put the onus back on the clubs,” he said.
“We decided the other night that, in the run up to the foundation course, senior referees will ring club secretaries and make that approach,” McGann added.
Significantly, Hickey stressed that all referees make mistakes, so that should not put off anybody with an interest in taking it up.
“Even top national refs don’t always don’t get decisions 100%. We’re not looking for lads who think they’ll be able to get every decision right. You’re making probably 100 decisions in a hurling game and an estimated 300 in football.”
A Basic Level 1 training course will take place at 7.30pm on Monday, February 26, March 5 and March 12. It will be run by Ger Hoey and Kevin Walsh and anybody interested should contact any referee or the Clare County Board.
By Peter O’Connell