THE Cork branch of the Irish Soccer Referees’ Society (ISRS) was saddened to hear of the recent passing of former international referee and much-respected branch chairman, Billy O’Neill.
The Dubliner, who was a founder member of the ISRS and the national council’s first secretary, moved to Cork in 1970 due to his association with the AXA insurance company.
After being elected chairman of the local branch, he brought the curtain down on his prestigious senior career by refereeing the 1973 FAI Cup final first match and replay between winners Cork Hibernians and Shelbourne at Flower Lodge.
He continued to officiate at local level, taking charge of many attractive blue-ribbon matches such as the AOH Cup final, before lending his considerable experience to referees not only in Cork, but in the greater Munster area in his role as FAI referee inspector.
In a lengthy career, he had the distinction of being involved in a number of ‘firsts’ and in 1959 he was part of the first trio to referee an international outside of Ireland.
He went onto to become the first Irishman to officiate at the famous old Wembley stadium, as well as taking charge of a Cup Winners’ Cup and European Cup semi-final.
Among his achievements as national council secretary was the abolition of the process of importing English officials to referee the FAI Cup final.
Among his wishes was that a Leesider might go on to referee at World Cup level and he saw Eddie Foley achieve the honour of taking part in the World Cup finals in France in 1998.
A good and dear friend of many of Cork’s well-known retired referees, including Pat Kelly, Willie Long, Jim McGrath, and Denis Morley, condolences are extended to his wife Ank, daughter Mieke, and sons Stephen, Paul, and Philip.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.