Sweating and feeling “absolutely wrecked”, Seamus Roche retired to his changing room under the Cusack Stand after the 2005 All-Ireland semi-final.
Having officiated a bona fide classic between Galway and Kilkenny which produced nine goals, the Tipperary referee was reasonably satisfied with his performance.
But then his mobile phone rang.
“I had got to Dublin the evening before and I diverted my house phone to my mobile. I came into the dressing room and my mobile was ringing. I answered it with a ‘hello’ and I got a stream of abuse.
“Somebody had been after ringing my house. I just hung up there and then. Those are the things that would affect referees but it didn’t bother me.”
The angry verbals that greeted him down the phone line were from a Kilkenny supporter. More calls were to come but by that stage he was screening them.
He doesn’t go into details but he is still reminded “to this day” by Kilkenny people about how he contributed to their downfall seven years ago, a Tipperary man getting one back on their neighbouring rivals.
“I did get some stick. I find all those things very petty, because there are always going to be fellas from border counties refereeing games. That’s just the way.
“Certain counties would have issues with each other and when a referee is accused of wearing his county colours and that the blue and gold is coming out through your referee’s jersey that to me is the one of the biggest insults.
“I don’t look at things that way. I’d be a big admirer of the Kilkenny team as anyone. They’re probably the greatest team we’ve seen.”
The sentiment among Kilkenny supporters was that Roche was harsh on their team. But they were particularly outraged with the Killsheelan/Kilcash man’s second-half decision to overturn a free out awarded to Peter Barry for back-chatting to him and award a throw-in.
David Forde won the restart against Barry and his ground strike broke inside to Niall Healy, who scored his second of three goals to put Galway seven points ahead.
On TV, Michael Duignan said: “I don’t think there will be any Christmas cards on the way to the Tipperary ref Seamus Roche after this.”
Indeed, as Roche later discovered, he was wrong to deny Kilkenny the free. “I believed it was the correct decision and every other referee on the national panel was of the same opinion. But we were informed at a meeting in Athlone that I was wrong to award the throw-in. I was 100% at the time sure that it was the correct procedure but when I found out I was dumbfounded.
“There was a massive argument and debate on it. The area was a grey area for us all because a lot more senior referees than me at the time said to me that I was correct.
“There was no hoo-ha about it. The player involved (Barry) knew, when I had cancelled the free, that he had stepped over the line. His body language changed.”
The rule boggles Roche’s mind to this day. He can’t see the logic in it.
“If I gave a free to a player and he struck me or any official with a hurley out of temper I’d send off the player and the free still stands. That’s where I have a serious problem with the rule book, that’s there are still those grey areas in this day and age.”
Roche has no regrets and believes referees have never been more under the microscope.
“I believe there should be two separate rulebooks with hurling and football. Other than that, I see the cynical fouling as the major talking point. Maybe giving the umpires more clout than they have can help. At the same time, they need to stand up and take responsibility for the stuff that is going on off the ball because the referee can’t see it.”
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