Home » News » Recent Article

What brought me to the Referees circle?

andrew smith goalkepper

We in Dunshaughlin GAA are very fortunate this year to have a new official referee with Coisté na Mhí in the club.
Andrew Smith (Dunshaughlin Senior Goalkeeper) is one of the new referees this year and in this very intersting insight tells us why he took it up, how its going, his goals and lots more.

I suppose there are several reasons why I started really.
Growing up I would have seen dad (Jim Smith) referee at a high level in Meath and at Inter County level. All be it I was very young when he was in his prime and it’s hard to remember a lot of his bigger days, but I do remember going to a few games with him, wedged into the back of the car with Dinny McCarty (R.I.P.), Michael Walsh, and Ollie O’ Neill, with John O’ Sullivan in the front. It was always good fun and great crack even if I was only doing ball boy at most of the games. I always remember looking on during games and thinking “God, maybe one day I’d like to do that”. Towards the end of his refereeing career I do remember doing umpire for him on a handful of occasions. Without a doubt it thought me a lot more about the rules aspect of the game which in turn helped develop me as a player and now as a referee.
The playing rules may have changed over the last decade since dad retired from refereeing but having him there now is a massive positive for me. He is umpiring with me now and I can always ask him for advice. That is brilliant to have. He will tell me instances where I done well and on the flip side he will tell me where I went wrong or where I need to improve. It’s a massive learning curve and a challenge but it is one I am looking forward to.
Playing the game since I was seven I was lucky enough to have a few great days with my former club, Ratoath and in recent times now with Dunshaughlin. I also managed to get on a few underage Meath teams which was brilliant, but I knew as adult football loomed that I wasn’t going to be good enough to play at Senior level for Meath. So, what is the next best thing to playing at the highest level?… In my opinion, its officiating at the highest level and starting out this year that’s going to be the long-term GOAL!
When I joined Dunshaughlin in 2016 as far as I know there was no referee in the club. This was going to be a problem as there was a rule brought in, in 2016/17 that a club would lose all home advantage in League games if they did not have an official referee with Coisté na Mhí. Being a part of the Adult team in Dunshaughlin I didn’t want to let this happen, I didn’t want to be playing every game away from home, just look at what the club has developed over the last number of years, the best of facilities. I wasn’t going to give up home advantage that easily, so I put my name forward at the end of last year to become a referee at the start of 2018. That rule was probably the final push I needed to take on refereeing.
I thought about it over the winter of 2017 and come January of this year I headed to Dunganny for a three-night course provided to all new referees in the county by the County Board. The three nights were brilliant. Driving down on the first night I “thought” I knew the rules of Gaelic Football. Little did I know that that wasn’t the case. Far from it! David Gough, who needs no introduction to the game, gave the course, he spoke excellently and by the time the first night of the course was over I was already hooked.
So that was it. Course over. Rule book in hand. Cards in my back pocket. You are now a referee! Daunting you might think but I couldn’t wait to get started.
My first game came on a wet night in late February under lights in Skryne. An under-15 challenge game between Skryne and Coolie Kickhams (Louth). I remember making a complete mess of the throw-in but since then I haven’t looked back. To date I have refereed numerous underage games with a few finals included in that. Adult matches soon came thick and fast with my first Adult Championship game coming on the 15th of April, a Junior D game between St. Colmcilles and Curragha in Dunshaughlin. This weekend coming, September 9th will be my biggest outing, the meeting of Moylagh and Dunboyne in the Junior A Quarter Final in Trim. To some people that may not seem that big at all but to me, at this point, it’s big. It is a game that I am certainly looking forward to and one that I can hopefully build on.
I mentioned at the start that I have a long-term goal to officiate at the highest level in the game. I know that’s a very long way off now, but it is still a dream of mine. I hope to progress up through the ranks in Meath and hopefully one day referee a Senior Final in Navan and maybe progress on to the Leinster Panel to be considered for Inter County games. Wouldn’t it be amazing to say I refereed in Croke Park?! Just like Dad did. Now though, we’ll take it step by step and see where it takes me.
Since I have started I have been very lucky to find a few excellent and reliable umpires in Neil O Dwyer, Gavin Malone, Pat Herlihy, Enda Smith and Dad of course who give up their time to help me. Having good umpires is vital to the success of any referee and I hope these lads stick with me and we can have many memorable days together just like Dad had with his clan.
Meath, like many counties I’m sure, are struggling for referee numbers but it seems like nobody wants to commit to taking up the whistle. After all Meath has a great history when it comes to producing top referees. I do have to commend our Refereeing coordinator and his committee at the number of new referees that have been appointed this year, it was great to see so many faces attending the refereeing course back in January, but Meath still needs more young referees. I hope that next January we see the same numbers again. At the moment though, there is not a lot to entice a young man or woman into the game. When I ask people why they would not take up refereeing the first word that comes out of ones’ mouth is “abuse”. Sadly, it is true. There is no doubt that the abuse side of the game, towards referees, is something that is a major issue in the GAA. Unfortunately, the majority for the abuse that is directed at referees, comes from those people who have no clue of the current rules of the game and have probably never seen what the inside of a rule book looks like. For me I find it very amusing and have, on the odd occasion, hand a good chuckle to myself after hearing a roar from the diehard fan the opposite side of the wire.
Aside from that side of the game there are so many positives to take from refereeing. Fitness being one. It is a great way to keep fit and it is something that has really helped me especially while I am still playing. You would be surprised the distance you cover in a game.
I’m not saying that every person who starts up refereeing has to become the next Conor Lane or James Owens. Far from it. You can referee as many underage games as you want and not do an adult game ever or vice versa. I’m sure both our underage games coordinators would only be delighted to have an extra few names on their list of referees. Refereeing underage games especially, you can see and help the development of our juvenile teams in the county by teaching them right from wrong. Getting the rules right, combined with the skills of the modern game, at a young age is crucial to the development of every player. Even since the start of this year, there are a few teams that I have refereed on more than one occasion and I can already see the difference in the few months. What’s even better again is that the juvenile games now are pure football. Score as much as possible. Brilliant to see!
I may be only 26 but I know I am not going to be playing football forever. Refereeing is there now as something to fill the void once I stop playing. Hopefully that’s not going to be for another while yet as I am still enjoying playing the game and training away with the lads. Who knows, maybe with the young players we have coming through in Dunshaughlin the glory days of the early ’00 may not be too far away again.
I’d love to see more people take up refereeing I really would. Not only is it badly needed, it is unbelievable how much you can learn about the game in doing so. You see the game from a whole other perspective. You literally are right in the centre of it. I would even encourage people; be it parents, selectors, coaches, players, if you are that person who goes to several games a week because you love the game, go and pick up a rule book and just have a read of it. You might just learn a thing or two just like I did back in January. It is the only book I read now.
I know refereeing is not for everyone and that’s understandable, it is not an easy job in any sense of the word. Don’t get me wrong there are pressure moments where the correct call or decision must be made and for me that’s where the “buzz” comes from. Getting that split-second decision correct. Referees of course are only human though and just like players make mistakes on the field, referees can too.
One thing is for sure though, the game cannot survive without them.

Andrew Mac Gabhann

Comments are closed.