AROUND this time every year it’s difficult to escape the various sporting lists of ‘ones to watch’ for the next 12 months.
Players aren’t the only ones relishing the start of a new season.
They’re the usual compilations of promising young stars tipped to make it big in their chosen fields.
But we’d like to put forward an alternative name of a match official.
Meet referee David Gough, a 28-year-old native of Slane who first took up the whistle in late 2007.
Already, Gough commands huge respect in Meath as he still plays with Slane and is the proud holder of a Hogan Cup medal with St Pat’s of Navan from 2001, along with a county U21 C title with his club.
A primary schoolteacher at St Pius X in Templeogue, Dublin, Gough also won a Trench Cup medal and a Division 2 League title with St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra. Gough will forever be indebted to the teaching academy on the north side not just for his profession, but for the introduction to the games promotion officer there, Tom Fitzpatrick.
Gough recalls: “At St Pat’s, we don’t have managers or coaches of teams; you train teams yourself and Tom Fitzpatrick was a national referee workshop tutor at the time. He’s still on the national referees’ committee and is also secretary of Cumann na mBunscoil in Dublin. Sometimes the students from St Pat’s are asked to referee Cumann na mBunscoil matches and I refereeed a final for Tom. I was also playing for the college at the time and Tom asked me to think about taking up the whistle, which I did when I left college.”
Gough took up a refereeing course in Meath but remained close to Fitzpatrick and for the last few years, the pair have been regular faces at Croke Park on every championship Sunday. Gough and Fitzpatrick work, on a voluntary basis, on behalf of outdoor advertising company CBS, who beam images from the big screens at Croke Park. The pair’s job is to monitor the TV live feed which goes out over the big screen and to ensure that any contentious incidents are not replayed in Croke Park, as they naturally are in thousands of living rooms all over Ireland.
Gough explains: “I’ve been doing it for three years now and I assume I’ll be getting the ball for St Patrick’s Day again.
“I was there on the day of the Louth-Meath Leinster football final in 2010.
“That wasn’t our toughest decision but it was the incident that caused most commotion. As soon as we saw what RTÉ were going to show, we informed the lads in the control room that they couldn’t show that.
“Irrespective of whether the referee’s decision is right or not, we have to make a call. Sometimes we can’t show the replay, when maybe the referee makes a wrong decision or misses a strike. And that’s how I gain such knowledge of the rules, being with Tom and being able to discuss them at that level with him. It is an enjoyable job — every Sunday going to Croke Park and having that fantastic view of the field and the options of replays in front of you from different screens and camera angles. It’s a fantastic opportunity.”
Ultimately though, it’s a job that Gough wants to phase out as he hopes to swap the control room vantage point for the coalface of big match day as a referee.
He knows there’s a long way to go but he has a clear vision and isn’t afraid to voice his ambitions.
For the vast majority of inter-county referees, taking charge of an All-Ireland senior final is the ultimate goal. Gough differs slightly.
He reflects: “To be quite honest, that was one of the first questions I was asked when I first started refereeing, if I felt that one day I could take charge of an All-Ireland final. I replied that I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think that. I’d like to emulate David Coldrick [fellow Meath native and All-Ireland SF final referee in 2007 and 2010] and referee an International Rules series. Refereeing an All-Ireland final would be a big honour but for me but I’d put that [International Rules] up there with it.”
Gough’s hopes of kicking off the new season with an inter-county fixture were dashed by Kilkenny’s withdrawal from the Bord Na Mona O’Byrne Cup, as he was due to take charge of the Cats’ fixture against Louth in Drogheda.
He admits: “I had been looking forward all Christmas to a game in the O’Byrne Cup and it did disappoint me.
“I did an O’Byrne Cup match last year between Offaly and UCD, down in Rhode. That was my first and only competitive fixture at senior inter-county level. It went very well. It was played on a Wednesday night on a very wet and soggy pitch in Rhode but I got a very high assessment from my assessor, 95% from Joe Moynagh in Louth.
“The reason I didn’t get any more matches I suppose was because I was so young at the time, only 27, and refereeing for just three years at that stage. I progressed very quickly within the county and onto the Leinster development panel but at that stage, there were some other referees on the panel who had moved onto the national panel. I knew I wasn’t too far behind some of them but experience counted towards them being moved onto the national panel.”
BUT Gough’s elevation to the national panel has been a natural progression and he’s indebted too to his four umpires — father Eugene, brother Stephen, uncle Terry and nephew Dean.
“They’ve been with me for every game since I started and I wouldn’t be where I am now without them,” Gough says.
“I can handle any situation that I see on the field but it’s the situations that happen behind you that cause problems.” ”
At local level, Gough took charge of the 2010 Meath IFC final between Nobber and Carnaross, before overseeing the 2011 SFC final replay involving Summerhill and Dunshaughlin. Gough also refereed the 2011 Leinster intermediate club final and the future promises rich bounty for a man determined to make it all the way to the top.
He’s also a keen tennis player at class two level in Dublin; a member of Stackallen in Meath and Glasnevin tennis club in the capital. He adds: “I’m lucky that I don’t have family commitments at the moment because it’s very time-consuming. I’m still playing with Slane and I play quite a high level of tennis. You need to keep yourself as fit as you possibly can because the higher up you go, the tougher the games and the more fit you have to be.”
In this regard, Gough is also deeply indebted to St Pius X principal Dermot Lynch, a native of Cork who also has a deep interest in the GAA.
“I’m very lucky that I have played football within the county [Meath] since I was 17 with my club,” Gough adds.
“I played intermediate and junior football and most of the players in the county would know me. I went to St Pat’s too and I very rarely get any sort of abuse. The players know that I’ve played football at the same levels they have and I’m fit enough to keep up with them when they’re moving up and down the field. I’ve been very fortunate — there have been no horror stories.”
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