Referee Chris Maguire from the Wolfe Tones club in Shannon departed from the airport on Saturday evening to officiate London versus Carlow in the National Football League. While there is nothing unusual about this what does make it a particularly unique trip is for the very first time travelling referees were allowed to bring their own umpires. In Ruislip on Sunday five Clare men officiated over proceedings with Maguire bringing his trusted umpires namely Frank Mee from the Kilmurry Ibrickane club, Jamie Divilly from Wolfe Tones, Martin Frawley from Kildysart and Cian Collopy from Wolfe Tones.
Speaking exclusively to the Clare Champion Chris is extremely proud to be a referee and feels that officiating matches has enhanced his love for all things GAA.
” I’m in my ninth year as a referee and to be honest it’s not something I planned on. I was below in my own club one evening when they had no referee for a Junior match. I stepped in and it so happened that Damien Fox was there. He approached me afterwards with a view to doing the Foundation course in refereeing and myself and Jarlath Donnellan went and did it together.”
At only thirty years of age, Maguire has already been the man in the middle for some high profile matches so which games stand out for him?
“At club level although I’ve been lucky enough to do two County Finals involving Kilmurry Ibrickane and Miltown Malbay and Eire Og and Ennistymon the match that stands out for me was last year’s quarter-final between Corofin and Lissycasey. It was an end-to-end hugely enjoyable spectacle and coming off the field that day I felt honoured to have been involved. Outside of the County it has to be the Munster Club Final between St Finbarr’s of Cork and the famed Kerry club Austin Stacks. That was an unbelievable experience to be officiating in such a huge contest and occasion.”
So has those high profile matches given him the desire for more?
“The Inter-County game is obviously a step up from club matches. It’s so much faster and doing the Munster U 20 final between Cork and Kerry below in Tralee was another fantastic highlight. Like anybody else who loves what they’re doing I want to go as far as I can. I’m only thirty so time is on my side and of course it would be a dream to be the man in the middle on All-Ireland final day in Croke Park.”
Recently we had the respect for referee’s campaign which is massively important as without officials we wouldn’t have matches. How does Chris feel about this as a whole?
“I’ve been lucky in that I can’t remember any real negative moments. If there was one area that could be improved it would be the treatment by management teams of officials. In fairness, players accept decisions and get up and get on with it. Management teams can be a little less forgiving of an error. As referees, we do our best. Sometimes people forget we have to make important decisions in a split second. No referee is going to get every call right so I feel there’s an onus on management teams to lead by example and show a bit more respect.”
Regarding the trip to Ruislip and the fact Chris could bring his own umpires the Shannon native feels trusting your umpires implicitly makes referring that bit easier.
“It was a great weekend to be honest. We flew out from Shannon to Heathrow and were put up in the Clayton Hotel in Cheswick. It was so much better than going on your own and being given strangers as umpires forty minutes before throw in. I have a dedicated team of umpires who I trust. They enjoy their job and make my life easier as they are focused on getting decisions right whether that’s a square ball infringement, a penalty claim or some off-the-ball stuff, I know I can consult with them and they will give me the necessary facts to make the correct call. It’s another positive step and I am thankful for the team of umpires I do have. They all have a love of the game which is so important.”
One of his team Frank Mee has been umpiring for over 15 years and he feels Chris is a rising star in referee circles.
“I did my first match just over fifteen years ago with John Brew as the man in the middle. I feel very fortunate to have been involved with some top referee’s like Damien Fox and Rory McGann to name just a few but Chris is definitely a rising star. He’s only thirty and has some high profile matches under his belt already.”
So what does Frank think makes a good referee?
“Communication is the key be it talking with players during matches or consulting with your umpires when making decisions. All the top referees trust their umpires and between us all we tend to make the correct call most of the time.”
Similarly Chris Frank umpires for a love of the game.
“I was unfortunate with chest problems that I could never really play from my teenage years on so the adrenaline I get in big match days from just being involved is incredible. I’ve been lucky to make great friends along the way and the GAA is as much about the social aspect as it is the competitive side of things.”
Again Frank, like Chris, feels that management teams need to show example and behave better towards officials.
“I know it’s the heat of the moment but it’s an area that can certainly be improved upon. Players can have moments too but they will always shake your hand afterwards. The majority are of the belief that what goes on the field stays on the field and no grudges are ever held.”
His most memorable moments as an umpire?
“The relegation final last year between Clarecastle and Whitegate was just incredible. It was a privilege to be part of it and the Munster Club Final between Austin Stacks and St.Finbars will always be a personal highlight of mine.”
With regards to last weekend”s trip to London Frank couldn’t be any happier.
“It was brilliant to travel as a group. We were treated so well by London GAA from being picked up at the airport to the hotel we were put up in, it was all first class. Referees need umpires they know and trust and it’s a positive step that they can now bring their own team to these games. I can’t imagine what it would be like for Chris to make that trip on his own and not know any of his umpires on match day. Yes, the referee is the man who makes decisions but we as umpires make suggestions and it’s our job to keep the referee as informed as possible.”
It goes without saying really that without officials we wouldn’t have matches. Referees are an essential cog in the glorious wheel of our beloved sport and without umpires, referees cannot get every call right. The GAA has and always will be a team ethos and this can be applied to the man in the middle and his team of officials also. The collective will always be better than the individual. Who knows where this journey for Maguire will conclude? We might just yet see Chris and his loyal team of Lieutenants in Croke Park on All Ireland Final day in the near future.