Cork football referee Conor Lane : ‘You enjoy the pressure situation of the games’

Referee Conor Lane during the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Fermanagh and Monaghan at Healy Park in Omagh, Co Tyrone. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile.

Cork football referee Conor Lane was included in his first championship panel in 2012.

Since then, he has taken charge of the 2013 All-Ireland MFC final, the 2016 All-Ireland SFC club decider, the drawn All-Ireland SFC final between Dublin and Mayo the same year, and last year’s Dublin-Tyrone All-Ireland SFC final. This weekend he is in charge as New York face Mayo.

Have you refereed outside the country before?

I have. I’ve been to Dubai to referee a round of the Middle East GAA championship. It is a one-day tournament of a Friday in October, which begins at 8am and finishes at 6pm.

You’d be on for two games, off for two games, and then back on. A load of other inter-county referees would have gone out there to officiate games.

Is there a novelty to refereeing outside the country, throwing in the ball in the middle of the Bronx, as will be the case tomorrow?

It is something new and you’d be looking forward to it. I’ve never set foot inside Gaelic Park so that will be new to me, first off.

It is always nice to get to travel as part of the job, although the gearbag wouldn’t normally be this heavy when you are setting off for a match. At the end of the day, though, you are going over to do a job. You are there to assist, to add to the occasion, and to let players play away to the best of their ability.

You will surely do a bit of sightseeing while out there?

Oh yes. I’ve only ever been to New York once and that was stopping off for a few days on the way back from our honeymoon.

We have two days to ourselves before the game. I would like to see Ground Zero. A few bits like that where there’s loads of walking and plenty of exercise after the long flight. Might even take in a show on Saturday evening.

Are your four umpires travelling over with you?

They’re not, so that’ll be both different and exciting. Connacht Council is supplying two umpires and two more are coming from Boston.

I’ll brief the lads early on the morning of the match and we’ll run through protocols, positioning, and what is expected of everyone on the day. That’s all you can do.

You would be used to your own lads. Nothing would need to be said between us. The only thing that would be said would be the criticism they’d be directing at me going home in the car afterwards. I won’t miss that on Sunday.

How did you find the experimental rules which were trialled during the league?

They were a challenge, of course, because you have to make sure each experimental rule is being applied correctly, such as the ball travelling the prerequisite distance to qualify as a forward mark. The kick-outs were fine; the forward sideline kick was fine; the 10-minute sin-bin was a good idea.

The mark, too, was positive.

Referee Conor Lane at Cork County Senior Hurling Championship Round 1 game at Pairc Ui Rinn. Pic: Larry Cummins.
Referee Conor Lane at Cork County Senior Hurling Championship Round 1 game at Pairc Ui Rinn. Pic: Larry Cummins.

It encouraged teams to kick the ball in and be direct, rather than to go sideways and backways. I’d be interested to see which of them, if any, are brought in on a permanent basis. For what it’s worth, I enjoyed them.

Would it bother a referee that you were asked to apply one set of rules in the league but must now apply a different set for the championship?

Not really, no. We are well used to the old rules. The main thing was getting used to the new ones. You’ll get back into the old rules handily enough. We must think of the players, as well, as it is not easy for them to adjust either.

Would you like referees to get a say in which of the experimental rules, if any, are brought in on a permanent basis?

In fairness, we, the referees, were asked what we liked about the experimental rules and what we didn’t like about them. Whatever rules come in, we’ll apply them.

We’d be comfortable enforcing any of them.

Retiring inter-county referee Rory Hickey recently revealed details of the abusive letters sent to him during a 20-year stint with the whistle.

Have you ever received such abuse?

I didn’t actually know that Rory had received this kind of abuse until I read about it last week and can I just say that he is a huge loss to us.

Thankfully, I’ve never experienced anything like that. Never got hate mail, never got a letter or never got a text. Touch wood, I never will. I don’t think it is that common, maybe the odd few have experienced it. What Rory received is not nice. Not nice for him or his family.

No doubt you’ve shipped your fair share of criticism while inside the whitewash, so does that ever take from the enjoyment you get from refereeing?

Look, I love refereeing. You travel up and down the country through refereeing and I’ve loads of friends made, from across Ireland and all over the world, through refereeing.

You enjoy the pressure situation of the games. The league is fine because it is only two points at stake per game, but the championship is knockout, so the pressure is turned up a fair few notches. I enjoy that, though.

To me, it is always about the teams. You are there to assist as best you can and to apply the rules the best you can. You let the teams play as much as you can, but not leaving it over boil.

Refereeing is a big commitment. But you are only there for a few years so you might as well enjoy every day you go out as a linesman or referee.

At various county conventions each winter, we hear referee administrators pleading with clubs to get more people involved in refereeing.

You’d accept it wouldn’t be the most popular past-time nowadays?

There’s probably a lack of referees in every county, at the moment, some counties more than others. For me, I was never good enough to play at a higher level. As a referee, I have no regrets thus far and I’d like to think I’ve another few years to go yet. It is about what you want to get out of it yourself.

You can be content refereeing games in your own county or even just in your own division. I wanted a bit more. I got onto the Munster panel and then I got onto the national panel.

The higher up the ladder you go, the more you get out of it. There is a sense of fulfilment.

Would you recommend it?

I would encourage more people to get involved. You have the odd person shouting in abuse and that does seem to be becoming more prevalent at juvenile games.

From that sense, lads would probably be wondering to themselves, why would I bother getting involved.

I’ve done a few bits with Cork GDA Pat Spratt and the Young Whistlers initiative to get more young people to take up the whistle.

Now, it is time-consuming. You’d leave Lyre at 8.30am of a Sunday morning, pick up the boys at 10am, and then head to Clones, for example, for a 4pm throw-in.

You wouldn’t get out of Clones until after 6pm and so you wouldn’t be back in Lyre until 11pm.

You might get the report in by midnight or just after and then I am back up at 6am on a Monday morning.

That’s your match-day so it is hands on. You need support from home to be able to do it and I am grateful for that.

I enjoy it, that is the main thing.

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