Cork ref Cathal McAllister on steps, handpasses, rucks and consistency in hurling

Experienced Imokilly official on the surreal 2020 championship and his career to date
Cork ref Cathal McAllister on steps, handpasses, rucks and consistency in hurling

Referee Cathal McAllister leads out his team for the Co-Op Stores Cork Premier Senior Hurling clash between Glen Rovers and St Finbarrs at Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

WAITING for the whistle to blow again. 

That’s very much the case with GAA referees throughout the country.

One of them is Cathal McAllister, one of the top officials in the business and one who has officiated at the game’s highest level.

Here on Leeside, he has presided with distinction in all grades, refereeing, being the man in the middle for two county senior finals, one of them being last season’s decider between Blackrock and Glen Rovers.

He has officiated in two All-Ireland minor finals, two U21 finals, two senior semi-finals and numerous games at All-Ireland club level. Like everybody else, it’s a waiting game right now for the games to commence again but the Aghada club man is making sure that he will be ready when the time comes. 

“Yes, you have to keep yourself in shape and we had our own programme to follow for six weeks under the guidance of Aidan Brady who works with Dr Niall Moyna in DCU.

"We have had zoom meetings too, they were co-ordinated by Donal Smyth the national games manager.

“At the moment it’s just a case of doing your own thing, keeping fit because we just don’t know for sure when the games will start up again."


McAllister refereed throughout last season when, for the most part, games were played in front of empty stands and terraces.

He told the Echo that it was all a bit surreal but you just got on with it.

“Definitely, it was so different, I refereed the county final here at home between the Glen and the Rockies and you would have had 20,000 at that game given that it was the first all-city final for years.

“There would have been a cracking atmosphere and you certainly miss that.

“I was on the line for the All-Ireland semi-final between Kilkenny and Waterford when Waterford staged a great comeback to win the game and I must say I certainly found it strange.

“All you could hear were the echoes around the huge stadium but I suppose it was a lot better than having no games at all. 

“I suppose from our viewpoint you are not listening to criticism if one set of supporters think you have made a wrong decision but, look, I miss the atmosphere of big match days and, hopefully, that will return sooner rather than later." 

Referee Cathal McAllister with Carlow captain Paul Doyle and Laois captain Enda Rowland last February. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Referee Cathal McAllister with Carlow captain Paul Doyle and Laois captain Enda Rowland last February. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Over the years he has seen the game of hurling change quite a bit but he still thoroughly enjoys being the man in the middle.

So what changes would he like to see?

“Definitely, I believe there are too many of what you’d describe as rucks in the game now, those are happening too often, 10 or 15 in a game and that’s something that needs addressing. 

“The handpass is now a huge thing in the game. The players of today are so quick with the way they offload the ball and you have to be right up with the play to determine whether it’s an illegal pass or not.

I think the most important thing for a referee is consistency, be consistent in how you apply the rules from the word go.

“If you whistle for an indiscretion at the start of a game, too many steps for instance, you have to do that throughout a game.

“I believe the keyword for any referee is consistency. If you apply the same level throughout you will avoid yourself a lot of hassle."

Being an anonymous figure out on the field is what he wants to be and what all referees want to be.

“Yes, we don’t want to be the talking point after a game, the game is all about the players and we want to referee games as best as we can do for them."

And it’s hard work.

“It is, I do a lot of games at every level, hurling, camogie, ladies football, god, I’d say, I’d do over 100 in a year.

“If you are refereeing an inter-county game up the country you are away for the entire day, sometimes anything up to 12 hours if you are in Dublin or up the North somewhere.

“But you would not be doing it if you did not enjoy it and I certainly still do and will continue for a few more years anyway."


And what ambitions has he left? 

"I have been fortunate enough to do a lot of the big games at provincial and national level but I haven’t got an All-Ireland senior final yet.

“You’d still be hoping for that and I’d have liked to have done a few more county finals.

“But when there are East Cork teams in finals that does not happen.

“You do get hassle sometimes but the enjoyment outweighs that and to be honest, I can’t wait to get back out there again on a field refereeing at some level."

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