Referee James Owens has revealed the abuse his family were subjected to after last year’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final between Waterford and Cork.
On the day, Owens chose not to take any action against Austin Gleeson for interfering with Luke Meade’s helmet in the first half of the game. As Owens later dismissed Damien Cahalane for a second yellow card offence, Gleeson remained on the field to score a goal and set another up for Jamie Barron.
The Wexford match official also elected not to change his report on the matter, deeming to have dealt with the incident at the time.
Had he not, Gleeson would likely have been suspended for the final against Galway.
Owens admits he was worried what impact the fall-out from the match would have on his father James Snr, who had been sick in 2016.
“Would it have been covered [as much] only for the fact it involved such a high-profile player?
“But that did have an effect on the family. I was very worried for my father at the time, because the year before he had a triple bypass. The following day I had to tell them to stay away from social media, not to buy any papers or do anything like that, but sure you tell people to do that and they go and do the opposite. They are curious to find out what people are saying about the incident.
There were hurtful comments and if you look over all the social media websites it’s the same guys that are passing the same comments and it’s the same hurtful comments.
“Again, I don’t get involved in it, but obviously I would be aware of it. They made me quite aware of some of the stuff that was going on. I just try to tell them to [ignore it].”
The aftermath of the Gleeson decision is just one call Owens knows has had reverberations for his family.
“That impact on family does have a very negative effect on [referees]. If you have your family suffering from certain decisions you make, obviously it is going to affect you in a way as well, but that’s social media for you. I can’t do a whole lot about it.”
With that in mind, Owens would support referees’ decisions being relayed live via a refereeing official, given that match officials on the day are explaining it over a mic feed.
A knee problem kept Owens sidelined for the Allianz League, when it was speculated he may have been punished for not following the advice of the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) and reviewing that Gleeson judgment call.
However, he returned for the championship, performing so well he was appointed to the final ahead of James McGrath, who announced he would be stepping down from the inter-county panel after not being given a role for the Limerick v Galway decider.
Rather than taint his experience, Owens feels McGrath’s response did him a favour.
“It took the heat off me, definitely, that’s the one thing that happened. I’ve had a conversation with James before the All-Ireland; there’s no animosity there between us. Myself and James go back a long way, we have been friends for years. If he wants to come back to the panel in 2019... we’d love to see him back. I think all the referees would love to see him back.”
The Askamore man was the first referee in 13 years to take charge of both a semi-final and final.
He was determined in the drawn Galway-Clare semi to show the appointments body he was worthy of the showpiece.
“Usually, the thought in the beginning was that the semi-final referee probably wouldn’t referee the final, but my objective going out that day was that I was going to put in a performance that was going to put serious pressure on the committee in charge to change that trend and make the decision that an All-Ireland semi-final referee was going to referee the final. The fact that the game ended up in a draw, it made a small bit easier. So, was I surprised? I was quietly confident that I was going to be getting the call.”