Refereeing Kilkenny-Tipperary Championship games this decade were like walking on a cliff edge. There was the exhilaration of being so close to danger and the joy of the view but you knew it was a match that could end you as a referee.
After the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final, Cathal McAllister didn’t fully recover for two or three seasons. You knew these games needed handling because they could so easily get out of control. These involved players who were boxing each other with their helmets on in league games.
No disrespect to any other team but you had to up your game 20% to 30% for Kilkenny-Tipp. I was fortunate to referee them four times in the Championship although it was difficult at times.
Diarmuid Kirwan also being from Offaly, I was somehow mistaken for him and giving that penalty to Kilkenny in the 2009 final.
I had been on the line for Michael Wadding in 2010 and it was an eye-opener. Kilkenny going for five in a row, Henry Shefflin going off injured, Lar Corbett’s hat-trick, Liam Sheedy wagging his finger as Lar got that last goal. The passion and atmosphere that day I thought couldn’t be topped until their 2013 qualifier.
The 2011 final was my first as a referee and it could have ended almost as quickly as it started after 18 minutes when Tommy Walsh caught me on the nose with his hurl. I looked down and when the grass began to turn red I knew I was in trouble.
The team doctors came to help and Kilkenny’s Tadhg Crowley wanted to bring me to the side of the pitch but I was the referee, not a player. Eoin Kelly was quick to tell me it was Tommy but I was in that much pain I didn’t care.
Getting involved in that shemozzle wasn’t something I’d usually do but it being an All-Ireland final and my first I felt I had to act. I heard later Barry Kelly, my assistant referee, was stretching after it happened as if he was getting ready to come in but no
Offalyman was going to let a Westmeath man take advantage like that and I was able to see out the game.
Tommy sent me his jersey a month later by way of apology and it was a nice touch. I think he was upset about it. People bring it up that I shouldn’t have it hanging up in my house and I should have sent him off but I didn’t know who had hit me and it was accidental.
Two years later, I was due to referee the Leinster final when I got a call from Pat McEnaney to say they had me in mind for the Kilkenny-Tipperary qualifier instead.
I hadn’t taken charge of a Leinster final before but I didn’t mind as this backdoor game was bigger.
I have never known a game like it for atmosphere. It was a powder-keg of a game but I was delighted with how I handled it. Ten or 11 minutes in and I pushed Eoin Larkin away, again something I wouldn’t usually do, but he was looking for retaliation and I had to set the tone. Dickie Murphy and McEnaney came in afterwards to congratulate me on the game and it was a great night too as we celebrated the 70th birthday of my father Michael, who was also one of my umpires.
I was again on the line for the drawn 2014 final when Barry made that late, controversial call — I wouldn’t have given a free either way.
The tension was palpable over the ear pieces as Bubbles O’Dwyer’s free went to HawkEye and it was deemed wide. I was relieved in a way for Barry because had it gone over he would have got a lot of grief from Kilkenny people.
I was steeped to get the replay and there were some great moments of skill in it like JJ Delaney’s hook on Seamus Callanan —- I believe JJ broke his finger earlier in that game. Richie Power got a savage goal and I had played advantage in the build-up — I was about to blow my whistle for his hurley being held.
I gave no yellow or red card in the 2016 final and was thrilled with how it went, especially for the advantage I gave to Cathal Barrett in setting up Bubbles’ goal. The hair stood up on the back of my neck after that. Tipp’s display for that last 20 minutes was unbelievable. Moments like that goal still stay with me from those games. That and Tommy catching a ball two feet above his man and spraying a ball across to Shefflin to score a point.
Callanan’s awesome performance in the 2016 final and wondering to myself would Cody ever make a switch. Paudie Maher heading up the Cusack Stand sideline and landing a point from 70 metres. I could admire them from close by as I do all of them from afar now.