Aidan Corr Column - The thankless job of the referee

It's a tough job being a rugby a referee
The job of a rugby referee is getting tougher all the time, writes Aidan Corr in this week’s Limerick Leader column.

The job of a rugby referee is getting tougher all the time, writes Aidan Corr in this week’s Limerick Leader column.

UP to the late 1950s the popular practice of expressing dissatisfaction of a referee’s performance at Thomond Park was to join in the singing of “Oh, oh, oh, oh what a referee, and his little wooden whistle wouldn’t whistle.”

Sadly, we have now reached a stage where the level of abuse of appointed officials on match days at some venues has reached the stage of unacceptability. At one recent AIL game in particular in this city I cringed at the level of obscenities that were directed towards one of the touch judges and this week I raised the issue with the incoming president of the Munster Referees’ Association, Eugene Meaney.

“Abuse like that is part and parcel of the game, always was,” he explained. “We all know that it is not good enough but it is an issue that we can’t get rid of. Referees are human, we get it wrong some times but there will always be some individuals on the sideline who are, by nature, more vociferous than others. The MAR issues abuse forms to the match officials, we have a Munster Branch Disciplinary Committee who deal with this issue and we continue to monitor the problem.”

The fact that two active members of the Munster Association of Referees recently walked away from their whistle and flag duties as a result of abuse, highlights the extent of the problem. In a week where the MAR has been honoured by having two of its members appointed for World Cup duty later this year, highlighting the abuse issue may be a little disparaging, but one that cannot be ignored.

According to Eugene Meaney, the appointment of George Clancy and John Lacey as part of the top 12 refs line-up for World Cup 2015 is a super honour and an acknowledgement of the work being done by the local referees. At the annual general meeting of the MAR this week, presentations were made to both.

“We are an amateur body, we don’t get paid and we do it because we love being involved and contributing something to the game we love,” said the incoming president. “We are unlikely to have two locals refereeing in a World Cup again, certainly not in our lifetime. An honour like this is not easily earned, it is the result of continuous hard work and commitment and on-going assessment. George is a tax official in Limerick and John works as a development officer with Munster Rugby, so they have full-time jobs to hold down as well as the demands of refereeing.”

After 25 years of involvement with the MAR, Eugene Meaney deserves the honour that will be bestowed on him when the association’s chain of office is handed over to him next month. A Shannon man, he refereed for 15 years and has been involved in administration for the past ten seasons.

“It is time consuming but we have become more efficient in recent years. We have installed a new e-Sports system, everything is on computer such as the weekly referee assessments, fixtures and data on individual performances. In the Limerick region during peak season we would require up to 60 referees each week-end. We need to recruit more than that with a figure of 90 set for next season. We have four women referees with Joy Neville set to referee her first AIL games next season. She will become the second woman to referee at that level, Helen O’Reilly reaching senior status this season.”

To become a rugby referee you have to be over 18 with retirement at a maximum age of 65. The MAR utilises a Pathway System once the budding ‘men in the middle’ are accepted by the IRFU. From there it is all about progressing through levels 1, 2 and 3 up to I-Pass which qualifies a referee to take charge at AIL level.

“Most of our meetings are taken up talking about the laws of the game,” said president-elect Meaney. “Trust me. There is a law in rugby for almost everything.”

Does that include the use of a ‘little wooden whistle’ I wonder?