Saving ref from furious fans all part of the job

Manicuring the lawn of Kingspan Breffni Park represents a relatively stress-free job, one would think, yet John Wrenne’s role has lent itself to a library-full of unusual memories.

Emphasis very much on unusual.

A native of Crosshaven, John’s position in the army saw him relocate to Cavan town where his brother-in-law was part of the grounds team at Breffni Park.

Wrenne soon followed suit, but little did he know the adventure that lay in store.

Locking a referee into a room for his own safety was hardly part of the job description.

“It’s just one of those things you have to be prepared for,” Wrenne quips.

Needless to add that such an incident is forever etched in the memory.

The parishes of Bailieborough and Ballyhaise had set upon Breffni Park to contest a juvenile final a couple of years back, but when proceedings ended on a sour note, Wrenne was left with little option but to take matters into his own hands.

“T’was nearing full-time and there was nothing in it when Ballyhaise scored a goal. The umpire waved the green flag, the referee jotted it down and just when the goalkeeper was about to take the resulting kick-out, the other umpire called the ref in and the goal was disallowed.

“Bailieborough went on to win the match and afterwards, furious Ballyhaise supporters surrounded the referee as he sought to go down the tunnel.”

The caretaker, realising the imminent danger, grabbed the man in black and locked the two of them into a room.

“Three quarters of an hour we spent in that room,” Wrenne laughs.

It wasn’t the only heated moment Wrenne stumbled upon, though there were times when he chose to remain ringside.

“One evening at Cavan senior football training, Anthony Forde, Anthony Gaynor, Eddie O’Reilly and Larry Reilly took at it, well they were tearing lumps out of each other.

“I said, ‘let them stay going, least this way they’ll get their frustration out’.

Mind you, players and supporters alike weren’t the only ones to get hot under the collar.

“There was one manager in particular, now I won’t name him, but he was terrible for losing the run of himself. It was half-time during an Ulster championship game and the manager in question spent 15 minutes shouting at the players, bleep this and that, and you know what, they were flatter going out than they were coming in.

“I’d always been down near the dressing room at half-time and you’d hear the managers shouting, roaring and cursing.”

Tommy Carr, however, wasn’t one of them.

“He was so refined on the line,” recalls Wrenne.

“Tommy’s silence gave the impression that the players inside the line were doing the right thing. I said to him one day, ‘You need to send a maor foirne out to those players tell them what they’re doing wrong’.

Carr offered a candid response: “I’ve taught them what I can; I can’t do much more the day of a game.”

The late Eamonn Coleman is another who stood out.

“Eamonn often raised his voice, but he did so passionately. I never saw a manager to speak in such a controlled passionate manner and I honestly believe that’s how you get the best out of players.”

No more than yesterday, Breffni Park has played host to its fair share of Ulster championship clashes, for Wrenne however, it’s the junior B match that embodies the real spirit of the GAA.

“Some clubs might only get to play in Breffni Park once a year, and the enthusiasm they and their supporters bring is fantastic. We had a county junior final here not so long ago; I think it was Shannon Gaels that won and their supporters were still on the pitch at 10.50pm at night.

“I had some job getting them out.”

Mind you, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

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