AS we approach the start of the 2021 League of Ireland season, managers are busy getting their players ready for the season ahead, and so too are the Elite Management Referee Team as they prepare to have their officials in top shape.
Recently I caught up with Cork man Eddie Foley, who is the assistant referee coach in the FAI, and here he talks about the return of football, and the preparation for the season ahead.
“It’s great that we are set to return to football soon, and hopefully this will not change as I’m sure for everyone involved in the game, whether you are a player, coach, referee or a spectator, everyone is looking forward to this,” said Foley.
“I am the assistant referee coach at national league and international level. While we all have specific roles that we would be responsible for, there would be a collective responsibility also as to what’s the best thing to do for the entire organisation and I am thoroughly enjoying this role.”
The Youghal man, as most of us know was the first official from Ireland to be appointed to the refereeing panel for World Cup finals as he did in 1998 in France.
Therefore it’s great to see his experience been used to bring through the younger generations at League of Ireland level.
Enjoying his current role, Foley knows the importance of been involved in the game at some capacity, and he is also aware of the need for the return of football.
“For everyone involved in the game, I think we all have our own personal needs for returning. At first, people may have been a bit reluctant about returning because of health reasons however I do think all our officials are comfortable about returning in March.
“Obviously I am ok about the league returning but then again that’s ok for me to say when I’m sitting in the stand as an observer. However, I also believe our officials are looking forward to the return because it has been a long time out of football.
“The break normally goes from November to February however this year for some strange reason it just seems to be so much longer.
“We have our fitness test next Saturday prior to the season and hopefully all will go well, and they will all pass. Referees and assistants have been training all along because they got their exemption through been an elite sport. They have been training in groups in which there were three training pods based in Dublin, Cork and Tullamore.
They would also have done their own individual training, in order to reach the standard of fitness required.”
So what extra responsibilities could referees face this season?
“With regards to extra responsibilities as a referee, apart from the responsibility of knowing the laws of the game and having a certain level of fitness, everything else is pretty much the same. There has been one new law of the game introduced. This is the concussion substitution.
“The IFAB, governing body of the laws of the game will now allow for two concussion substitutions which means a team could maybe end up with seven substitutions in a game. If team A have a concussion substitution, then team B gets an additional substitution, so it’s not a numerical advantage for any one particular team.
“When I started refereeing there was no such thing as concussion, well there was but we just didn’t know it so it just goes to show that the game and the laws are constantly evolving, which can only be for the better of the game.”
As Covid put a halt to so many things in life, it also prevented courses like referee beginners to go ahead throughout the year. With a shortage of referees as it is, it is important that these courses can get going again soon, and Foley agrees that the FAI will make up for the courses missed throughout the year as they plan to have extra courses as soon as they are allowed.
“Covid affected the beginners' courses throughout the year which was obviously very disappointing. The courses are coordinated by the FAI referee’s department, John Ward and Rob Hennessy and these are supported by instructors from around Ireland with myself been the instructor responsible for Cork.
“The EMRT led by Tomás Connolly (referee allocations officer), Declan Hanney (observer appointments), John Feighery (development) and myself as assistant referee coach are working hard to get these courses up and running as soon as possible. The majority of the course now will be done online so this will certainly quicken up the process.
At the moment only elite level is allowed played so with regards to grassroots football, we just have no idea when it will return.
"There are just so many different parties that need to come together to allow sport to continue, so that may take time but for the moment to keep grassroots officials involved, the FAI are running modules which is great to get them ready for the re start of football.
“People take up refereeing the majority of the time just to give it ago, however once it gets into your system, you become hooked so I can’t imagine too many referees retiring due to the long break, in fact, I would expect them to be more eager than ever. The long stoppage I believe will want referees chomping at the bit looking forward to getting back on the pitch again. I have no doubt this will be the case.”