IT'S another big day for the Cork Referees Branch as three of their members will officiate at the Intermediate Cup semi-final this Saturday at Ringmahon Park.
Ed McNally, Paul Braganza and Johnathon Hennessy are three experienced referees and all are looking forward and ready for the big game.
Ringmahon will host Killester Donnycarney in this long-awaited tie which was put on hold due to the Covid disruptions. McNally will be in the middle with Hennessy and Braganza his assistants, and all three were delighted with the appointment.
“When the initial draw was made I was disappointed when Ringmahon got a home draw as I knew I had ruled myself out of contention to be involved as I was due to head to Tenerife that week and I wasn’t brave enough to tell Lorraine I wasn’t going,” said McNally.
“Then the pandemic kicked in and everything was cancelled. Not knowing if the competition would resume nobody knew where we stood. Then a few weeks back it got the green light so I was hoping to be involved.
"At the start of the season you set your goals for top league games, maybe a cup final and hopefully a quarter or semi-final of the intermediate cup. My last semi-final was in 2016 when I assisted Keith Calnan, and because Ringmahon lost out that day, it gave me the opportunity to referee the final that same year in the Aviva.
“When Pat Kelly rang me two weeks back in the middle of a lunch date you have to say sorry girl I need to take this,” laughs McNally.
“So delighted is an understatement as it’s a huge game for both teams, their management and club officials that sacrifice hours throughout the season.
“I’m looking forward to working alongside Paul and Johnathon. I’ve worked with the lads a lot over the past two years and I’ve seen how much the lads have improved in that time. Both are extremely professional and top-class assistants. Their reading of the game and their knowledge of the laws of the game are unreal. That’s the reason so many of the local lads latch onto them for their laws of the game exam at the local seminar.
This is Johnathan’s last big game locally before he joins the League of Ireland panel and begins a new chapter in his career.
Paul is now a Grade 1 referee so it’s only a matter of time before he follows Johnathan to the League of Ireland.”
For the 36-year-old nurse from Midleton, who first took up the whistle just over a decade ago, Braganza said it’s a huge honour for him to be part of this tie and he is quick to praise the support from his wife.
“I was thrilled to get the call that I would be involved at this stage of the competition,” said Braganza. “It was not only great for me but it was also great for my wife Sharon who encouraged me throughout and was delighted with the news of me getting a call that I was assisting in the intermediate cup semi-final.
"Over the years, my refereeing has taken a lot of sacrifice, patience and hard work and without Sharon’s support it would have been tough. I am really looking forward to what is expected to be a great game. Ringmahon are a very strong team with good physical and tactical players, while as the visiting team I have read about the team which is equally strong.”
Hennessy is the other assistant who has being making massive strides as a referee. Having only started out back in 2014, the father of three from Donoughmore has recently completed the School of Excellence and is now promoted to the League of Ireland as an elite referee. This will be his second Intermediate Cup semi-final appointment and he is thrilled and looking forward to the game.
“I was over the moon with the appointment,” said Hennessy. "It was a fabulous experience the first time round and I am delighted to get another opportunity. There is a slight change to my role on the day. There is a lot more personal responsibility with regard to hygiene and social distancing.
"My game as a referee will change slightly, with more focus around pre-match protocols and referee/player interaction, however I am really looking forward to it.
“There have been loads of changes with keeping away from players which is hard to do, as a referee you need to communicate with the players at the same time respecting them, but the distance of the Covid guidelines will make it challenging, but has to be done for the safety of the players and officials.
“I expect a tough challenging game. I've never seen Killester Donnycarney play before but looking at their results and speaking to fellow referees I've heard that they are a team who like to play football and are well organised.
"I have been on the line multiple times over the past four years for Ringmahon. They have players with League of Ireland experience, they have speed and youth and are a well-organised team so I’m expecting a physical game with two footballing teams. It will be a great atmosphere even with a reduced crowd. We are all looking forward to this great occasion.”