THE RETURN of football will be hugely welcomed whenever it happens.
For everyone with a passion for sport, it’s been a massive change to our lives. Its absence has taken away the joy of playing, coaching and supporting our teams.
And more importantly, it has taken us away from seeing our friends. While we all miss our own interaction with the game, do we stop and think about how it has affected others.
Sometimes we forget about certain people that really matter when it comes to us enjoying our games. Those people who competitive games could not go ahead without. Those we sometimes take for granted... referees.
It’s true what they say: 'Sometimes you don’t notice the referee during the game unless he makes a bad call'.
Recently I caught up with Cork Referees Chairman Eddie McNally and it was a real eye-opener to listen to him speak about referees and how much they have also been affected by the lack of sport.
“When we went back last July the initial fear was that we would lose a high percentage of our members but fortunately we didn’t, most of our members were bursting to get back. I hope that will be the case again when we return hopefully this summer.
“We as a committee have been doing as much as we can to keep our referees motivated and entertained over the past few months. It hasn’t been easy as we have had to adapt to a lot of changes in the way we run things but nonetheless we are doing our best in preparing our referees to return.
“As chairman along with our committee, we had branch meetings for our members the first Monday of every month in the Blackpool Community Centre.
“Those meetings are educational with lecturers on the laws of the game. Without these meetings since February last year we are using Zoom and WhatsApp to keep the members informed of any guidelines we receive from the FAI."
With the current restrictions so high and likely to roll through the spring, it will be some time before games can kick-off again.
"It could be June before clubs can go back training and this is only speculation from myself. If clubs return to training in June they will possibly want a minimum of four to six weeks preseason taking us to mid-July.
“It is our job as a committee to have our referees ready and fit to restart the leagues and we will work with Pat Kelly and the local assessors to have our lads ready and aware of any Covid protocols that need to be adhered to.
“Speaking to members, referees are really missing the buzz of match day. Some of our lads would referee for financial reasons but like other sports, we have costs that need to be met to referee.
"Expenses from society membership, script, insurance, training and our referee kit which the lads have to buy themselves. So I’ll use this to put in a plug for any potential sponsorship from any business that may have a few pound around and are willing to have their company logo advertised on our jersey at all local football every week.
“Like myself most of our members’ referee for the love of the game to stay involved in a sport that most have been involved in since we were four or five years of age.
“It keeps them fit and active just look at Denis Morley and Billy Noonan both over 50 years of age still involved.”
Staying involved in the game at some capacity will always have a positive and for McNally refereeing and keeping fit helped him in his recent health scare.
“The past month has been a complete nightmare as I contracted Covid at the beginning of January. With an underlying heart condition that I was born with I was extremely concerned as it took a serve effect on my health in regards to fatigue and chest pain.
“I returned to work a few days ago but on a part-time basis for now. Things like this open your eyes and it’s amazing the phone calls and well wishes you get on a daily basis from family, friends customers, players, managers club officials and fellow referees."
He won’t be returning to training until late February once he gets the green light from my GP.
"For me getting back to normality and not losing any of our referees is the main focus and one in which I and the committee will be doing everything to ensure will happen.
“Like clubs and leagues and other referee branches around the country, there is a possibility that we will all lose members in some capacity as people now realise there is more to life.
"If we do return in August say, we will be over 11 months away from the playing field. We hope we don’t lose anyone as we need as many active referees as possible to staff games throughout the local leagues on a weekly basis.
"Unfortunately we did lose a long-term committee member Mark O’Flynn due to personal reasons. Mark was an extremely experienced referee committee member and a liaison for the Cork AUL. Mark’s shoes will be very hard to fill and we wish Mark all the best in the future.
“For now we wait patiently for a return to football and I would like to take this opportunity to wish a speedy recovery to any of our members, league officials and clubs officials and members that have been affected by this.”