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The referee is ... a player

Loughrea’s Michael Haverty lost an All-Ireland final last weekend as a player. Tomorrow, he referees a top NHL clash. Michael Moynihan asks is it possible to be both player and ref?

THE DARK clouds over Loughrea this week were entirely understandable, given their hurlers’ loss to Ballyhale Shamrocks in Saturday’s All-Ireland club hurling final. But one member of the Loughrea panel gets back on the horse this weekend.

Michael Haverty came on as a substitute for the Galway club last weekend; at 44 he became the oldest player to see action in an All-Ireland club final. However, his week isn’t nearly over. He’ll start this Sunday’s NHL clash between Cork and Wexford, where he’ll resumes his refereeing duties. It’s one way of putting that All-Ireland club defeat behind him.

"Life goes on," says Haverty, "The other lads are taking a break for a week or two and they deserve it, they put in a savage effort, training.

Haverty doesn’t think he’s viewed differently by players because he’s still playing top-flight club hurling.

"A lot of the other referees would still be involved anyway themselves, playing at some level with their clubs.

"As a referee you make the calls as you see them. If you’re doing a game where there’s a bit of controversy, well, we all make mistakes — you have to be man enough to stand up and say ‘I got a call wrong’ and try to improve for the next game.

Football referee Pat McEneaney played senior club football in Monaghan with Corduff while also refereeing at intercounty level. He’s unequivocal about the benefits of combining the two.

"It’s an advantage to be a referee when you’re still playing the game," he says.

"Players tend to think ‘ah, that fella never kicked a ball in his life, how could he ref a game’. I grew up playing and refereeing — I tore my cartilage playing football at 21 and got involved in refereeing by accident. I played on until I was 40, and refereeing extended my playing career. I was training for football, playing and refereeing and, when the club finished, I was doing a lot of college matches.

"The problem for club players is that they finish maybe in October or November, the club doesn’t go back until January, and the older you get the bigger the struggle it is to come back in January. But refereeing helped me when I started hitting 35, 36, because I was maintaining the fitness the whole year round."

So much for the advantages. There are obvious drawbacks, as McEneaney found out early on.

"One of the first times I refereed the Dubs in Croke Park, the game was on 10 minutes when the whole Hill started chanting, ‘the referee’s a w——r’. I was back in training with the club the following Tuesday and Felix Bannon, a good friend of mine said, ‘Jaysus McEneaney, I was amazed last Sunday the amount of people on the Hill who knew you’.

"You’d get plenty of that, but I wouldn’t have been behind the fence in coming forward myself. If you’re prepared to dish it out you’ve got to be prepared to take it."

Dickie Murphy had a slightly different experience. Not only did he combine playing and refereeing, he was a Wexford senior hurling selector as well: three hats instead of two.

"Well, there were times when playing and refereeing was good and times when it wasn’t," says Murphy.

"You’d referee a game and the next week you’d be playing against the same lads, but I suppose the one thing is that lads would have a bit of respect because at least you were playing the game, that you knew what was going on."

Murphy found clubmates were interested in his views on other referees, particularly if they’d lost.

"There wouldn’t be too many people would say things to you — the worst would be if you lost a game, with your own crowd they’d be saying afterwards, ‘what did the ref give that free for?’.

"When I was a Wexford selector I carried on refereeing for the first year. I remember one weekend I refereed a Munster championship replay between Waterford and Limerick on the Saturday and was on the line with Wexford the following day against Offaly in the Leinster championship semi-final.

"I was still refereeing club games in Wexford that time and the county lads wouldn’t say a word to you in those games!"

Murphy would like more players getting involved in refereeing, but he’s also conscious of the realities.

"In a lot of sports the big complaint is recruiting referees. We’d all like to see intercounty players taking up refereeing, but I suppose they’re training four or five nights a week to reach that standard, when they’re finished they probably want to take it easy — the last thing they’d want is abuse!"

McEneaney has a different take on recruitment: "I think the people we want to referee are fellas still playing hurling and football. I played senior football for my club while I was refereeing — I refereed an Ulster final one day and played for my club that night.

"That’s not easily done — you won’t do it for long — but you want refs developing at 30, 31, not at 40. It’s no good getting a guy at 40, it’s too late; a referee like Joe McQuillan is 30, he’s still playing and he’s coming through at the right age. The same with Barry Kelly. The likes of me and Dickie are in our forties, we want to bridge that gap."

Nearly quarter of a century after he started, McEneaney is still passionate: "I was on a football pitch at quarter past seven this morning and I trained until eight o’clock. There has to be something there to drive me on; it’s because Sunday week I’m refereeing Down and Derry and I want to know I’ll be able to get around the pitch for seventy minutes.

"I’m 45 now, I think I’d have another two years in me. Check back with me then!"