Limerick's John McCloskey - From Garryowen to US referee

Former Geraldines player becomes elite level soccer referee

Donn O'Sullivan


Donn O'Sullivan


Limerick's John McCloskey - From Garryowen to US referee

That's enough: Limerick referee John McCloskey calms down Paris Saint-Germain's Christophe Jallet during a pre-season clash between the French giants and DC United of MLS in 2013

WHEN John Mc Closkey left Limerick in 1994, he was a part time soccer player who was in search of full time work. Little did he know, he was about to arrive in America at just the right time.

There may have been a jobs boom on the east coast, but there was an even bigger boom beginning countrywide, soccer was taking over America.

The Garryowen native left Limerick with his wife Toni, from Kennedy Park, to look for work. Having stopped off in New York for a few months, the pair eventually settled in Bear, Delaware.

“Like many others at the time, we went in search of work” John admits.

“We went to New York first, but with the help of my aunt and uncle Dan and Betty Daly (O'Brien) originally from Bengal Terrace, we moved and settled in Delaware. It is a fabulous little state and is where my two kids Conor (15) and Aoife (18) are delighted to call home”

John, who had played since schoolboy level at Geraldines FC in the city, looked to join his local soccer team when he arrived. It was first seen as a way of keeping fit, but when John was asked to referee for the first time, he did not expect it to turn into something bigger than a hobby.

“Soccer was booming in the US from 1994 onwards really. The soccer World Cup of that year had meant that there was huge promotion of the sport and the newly formed MLS. Our local league was looking for referees who had played the game. They say that as an advantage and I thought why not” admitted Mc Closkey

From humble beginnings in an under 12 game, John quickly found his feet and progressed up through the ranking system for referees.

“The system here in the US, is pretty much the same Worldwide. There are eight levels with level one being the elite FIFA World Cup referees you see on TV all the time. Level two are the assistant referees or linesmen as you would call them, and I progressed to level three, which is a professional referee level,” added John, now a labour representative for the railroad workers of America.

The referee business, much like the players they control, is cut throat. Referees can be cut from rosters as quickly as they can be put on them. John recalls the effort he made to make sure he stayed on top of his game, on and off the pitch.

“Fitness is a huge thing. You have to train seven days a week. There are nine assessments you have to pass before you can referee at the top level. If you make a mistake on the way up, you are done. There are no second chances. There can be as many as 30 different assessors watching you over the course of a season, you have to be (excuse the pun) on the ball,” the now retired referee admitted.

As Mc Closkey's experience grew, so did the profile of his games. The Limerick native went from U/12's through to U/18 and on to the elite college games run by the NCAA.

“I got some breaks along the way” admits John.

“I was asked to referee an Under 17 game between Turkey and France. That game was televised and I assume they liked what they say. I was later added to the NCAA panel and was suddenly doing games which were live on ESPN.”

As recent as last season, John was the referee for the semi final of the Mens Soccer Final four, played in the 22,000 capacity BBVA Compass stadium in Texas.

When asked what was he most memorable game, Mc Closkey admits that most were memorable and enjoyable enough, but his favourites would have to have been the PSG versus DC United friendly he refereed in 2012.

“I refereed that game. It was played in front of a massive crowd, live on TV. I probably remember it most for the fact it was Zlatan Ibrahimovic's first goal for PSG. That was a highlight alright.”

Refereeing can be a tough, lonely and often thankless job, but Mc Closkey, whose own son Conor is now refereeing games at 15, says that it is something younger Irish kids should look at more.

“It is an ideal way to stay involved in the game, you make great friends and it keeps you fit. Yes, the respect for officials is better on this side of the water, but the pros far out weigh the cons for sure.”