If keeping fit, having opportunities to travel, taking part in a lively social scene or getting an adrenaline rush is your idea of a great pastime, then rugby refereeing could be for you.
We have been speaking to some of Connacht's finest referees and asking them how they got involved in the role and what advice they would give to someone who is interested in pursuing refereeing.
What is your rugby back story?
I was a player underage with Sligo RFC. I played my adult rugby with NUIG from 2005 until around 2010. It was a great way to meet people and we were a very ’social’ team!
Outside of being a referee, tell me a little about yourself.
I am a 37 year old Army Officer from Co. Sligo. I live in Oranmore, Co. Galway with my wife Áine.
Where and when did your referee journey start and where is it now?
I started out in 2018 when I completed my referee course with Connacht Rugby. I was really impressed by the detail and professionalism of our trainers as well as the opportunities to proceed through the grades.
Since then I have been really fortunate to be involved in some great games. I am currently a junior provincial referee so I mainly referee in Connacht from U14 and Junior Schools to Adult J1/J2 League and Cup games.
Does being a referee help with anything outside of sport?
Yes, definitely. I work as an Officer in Óglaigh na hÉireann (the Irish Defence Forces) so being fit and eating healthily is an important part of the job. Refereeing has given me a real focus for my physical training and the mental resilience and decision making required to referee a game is a key aspect too, that has crossed over to my work. In many ways my role in the Army has helped my refereeing as well.
One of the often overlooked aspects is there is a huge social side to being a referee. You travel throughout the province meeting great people who are giving freely of their time to improve the game and you meet players, both young and old, who love the game and the fierce competition of a rugby match. Whilst it can be lonely sometimes standing there in the middle, you know you’re part of something really special in Connacht and you know that all the referee assessors, coaches, supporters and players have your back and will gladly have a cup of tea or a pint with you after the game.
What made you want to be a rugby referee?
Back in 2018 I had been looking for an opportunity to stay involved in rugby that offered flexibility around my work and personal life and refereeing was a perfect fit.
What has been your proudest moment so far as a referee?
Finals are always great occasions with loads of noise and lots of pressure. I was honoured to be appointed to the Junior Schools Cup Final between Marist and Sligo Grammar, this season which was great fun, once I got over the nerves. I also was lucky enough to run the touchline in the Junior Cup Final and watch my fellow referee, Shane Gaughan, put in a great performance.
Any advice for people who are considering becoming a referee?
Get on to Connacht Rugby and just give it a go. No one expects you to be Nigel Owens on day one. There’s great opportunities to develop and learn and if you come to refereeing with a growth mindset you’ll have no issues and a lot of fun!
What does a typical day working as a ref look like?
Preparation normally starts the night before, just like most players. Getting a good meal (plenty of carbohydrates and vegetables) and a good night’s sleep is always a good start. I might do a bit of work on my game plan and revise some laws the evening before, as well.
On the morning of a 2pm game I’ll get up around 8am, do some stretching and a walk then breakfast and relax most of the morning. I’ll aim to get to the game for about 1hr 15mins before kick off leaving plenty of time to meet teams, inspect the ground and do a warm up. I like to have everything done 30mins out from kick off so I can prepare mentally for the game.
After the game I’ll normally call into the club house for a cup of tea and head home. I’ll update the system with the score and make some notes on how I thought the game went when I get home.
What had been the biggest challenge in your journey so far?
Referee abuse, thankfully, is rare in Connacht and people understand you’re trying to be fair and facilitate a good game. However, I have encountered some challenging behaviour from players and others and dealing with this has been a challenge that all referees, unfortunately, encounter at some stage in their development.
Has there been anything that has surprised you?
The mental pressure has really surprised me. Sometimes the pressure comes from the crowd and atmosphere, sometimes from the players and sometimes from myself. I’ve had to be better at dealing with pressure by being better prepared and having a plan for those big championship minutes. It’s why you get involved as it can be really exciting and it feels great when a big game goes well.
Is there anything difficult about the role?
When you get into it, balancing the time commitment can be difficult but the Association are great in supporting you and they understand if you need a break.
What is your dream match to referee?
I’ve seen some footage recently of schools games in New Zealand. They look incredible! That would be amazing to referee I’d say.
If you would like to start refereeing and become a member of the association contact IRFU Referee Development Manager Peter Fitzgibbon by phone on 086 8322987 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.