CORK’S Pat Kelly is a legend of refereeing.
With the soccer season on hold, due to Covid-19, Pat tells us the history of the schoolboy game on Leeside.
“My early memories of football in the Cork Schoolboys’ League go back to the Mecca, which was the pitch in Togher,” said Pat. “My late father, Timmy, was a referee in those days, which were the mid- to late-1950s.
“I can recall going to watch matches on weekends and every night of the week during summertime.
“The rest of my family had other hobbies, which meant that both mam and I joined my dad on the journey to Togher, from the family home in 98 Street.
“One player who stood out, and was always a pleasure to watch, was Willie Henchion, of Southend United, who were managed by Paddy Gregory,” Pat said.
“Willie went on trial to West Ham United and his untimely passing, at a very young age, was difficult to comprehend. A very talented player, who came from a very sports-minded family.
“Speaking of Paddy Gregory takes me back to an incident that occurred during a match between Southend versus Wembley, at Ballyphehane Park, at U13,” Pat said.
“Paddy loved the fact that his teams were always in the hunt for honours, so his team, who were on top of the league, against our team, who were at the bottom of the table, was an obvious mismatch,” Pat said.
“At half- time, with the score at 0-0, Paddy was getting anxious and, with 15 minutes to play, he realised what was going on and called the referee, Tommy Healy, to inform him that we had 12 players on the pitch,” Pat said.
“Because we failed to act quickly enough by taking the nearest player off, Tommy counted the players and duly informed us of the situation and that we would have to remove one of the players. Noel Constant, who was about 4’ 2” at the time, and the smallest player, bore the brunt of it, as we accused him of going on the pitch of his own accord,” Pat said.
“It took Paddy 75 minutes to realise that we pulled a stroke. All ended happily for Paddy, as his team scored twice in the closing 15 minutes to win another league title. They were great times.”
Pat refereed because he enjoyed it. Verbal abuse was never an issue.
“From memory, I can’t remember match officials receiving any sort of verbal abuse, from either players or team officials, over decisions awarded against their teams. The object of the exercise was enjoyment for the players, in a league that was formed specifically for that purpose,” Pat said.
“Management of the league in the early days was led by John Cooke, Leonard Gould, and Tim Rohan, three men that were to the forefront, but, no doubt, backed up by their respective committees.”
Referees officiated at all of the local leagues, from schoolboys to the League of Ireland.
“There were no match fees for referees in the schoolboys’ league, who, at that time, were well-respected. That begs the question, was it because they were only volunteers at schoolboy level?” Pat said
Although he always had a love for sport, he fell into refereeing by accident. However, he went onto have an amazing career as a referee and observer.
“I was very interested in all sports, but never participated as a player until I was 16 and then only in the youths league and then the AUL. That career didn’t last too long.
“Maybe a lack of skills were to blame, but I co-managed an U14 team with Jimmy ‘Fox’ Murphy, the father of former Ireland U15 international and referee and current FAI referee observer, Finbarr,” Pat said.
“That was to, eventually, lead to a successful refereeing career for me, when a referee failed to show up in Ballyphehane Park for our match and I was persuaded to referee it.
“A few dodgy penalties against our team, when we were well on top and leading 5-0, must have impressed the league’s fixture secretary at that time, Pat Long, as he asked me to help them out for future matches.”
That set Pat on the road to a very successful career: 29 years as a referee and 21 years as a referee observer.
“Another stalwart within the league, and a gentleman who I got on very well with, was Pat Cronin, father of present treasurer, Neil, and he was fixture secretary of the league for many years,” Pat said.
“To contrast the schoolboys’ clubs then to the present day is mind-boggling, where you went from U13, U14, U15, and U16, with clubs being represented by one team and one division, to the present day, where clubs have numerous teams in five divisions, from U11 to U16. With hundreds of fixtures being a logistical nightmare for fixture secretary, Eddie Doyle, particularly in the current environment,” Pat said.
“The mentality of team coaches has changed to winning at all costs. Maybe this is caused from the pressure of some parents who envisage their sons and daughters becoming the next superstar. That is putting extra pressure on referees, coaches, and league committees.”
The Cork Schoolboys’ League is comprised of chairman, Peter Connolly, vice-chairman, Anthony Kenneally, treasurer, Neil Cronin, Donal Kelleher, Willie Lettis, Pat Morrissey, Paul Allen and fixture secretary, Eddie Doyle. “These people deserve the utmost respect for what I would describe as the biggest babysitting service in our city,” Pat said.