Diarmuid Kirwan on the highs and lows of refereeing across four decades

Offaly native settled in Éire Óg and has been in the middle at every level since the 1990s
Diarmuid Kirwan on the highs and lows of refereeing across four decades

Jackie Tyrell, Kilkenny, slips past referee Diarmuid Kirwan as he prepares to clear from Tipperary forwards Noel McGrath and Eoin Kelly in 2009. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

THERE is little doubt the refereeing skills of Diarmuid Kirwan at inter-county level will be remembered for all the right reasons. 

His ability to interact with players while applying the rules sensibly was stood out.

Diarmuid, and his father Gerry, are the only father and son partnership to referee All-Ireland senior hurling finals.

Diarmuid, born in Offaly, arrived on Leeside in 1989 and got married four years later to an Éire Óg diehard in Breda O’Leary and they were blessed with three sons Paul, Brian, and David.

Diarmuid refereed his first Cork Junior Hurling final in 1997 between Castlelyons and Courcey Rovers and last year he was appointed to referee to the Castlemartyr and Russell Rovers Intermediate Hurling final before the dreaded coronavirus halted proceedings.

This clash should be played later this year and it will mean that Diarmuid will have refereed county finals over four decades in his adopted county.

One would have to look back to 1995 when Diarmuid took up refereeing within the Muskerry Board before joining the Munster panel in 1999 and a year later to the National panel and that is some achievement in a mere five years.

Over the years Diarmuid has been the man in the middle of one Munster senior hurling final and two at senior club level. In 2002 he handled the All-Ireland Minor hurling finals but strangely, he never refereed a Munster hurling final.

“It was a great day for me when I handled the 2007 All-Ireland Senior final as I think that it is the pinnacle of my career as between Leinster and Kerry club finals and National League finals, I tasted them all over the years."

Although people look and are quick to criticise referees, Diarmuid was bullish about the fitness level that’s required to maintain your status at the top level.

“I was on the national panel for 18 years and we had to do three fitness tests annually and, in that time, I never failed any of them."

Diarmuid Kirwan.
Diarmuid Kirwan.

It is well-documented that some people think that people only referee for financial gain, but Kirwan rubbished that.

“You wouldn’t be a rich man from refereeing as Cork is unique as the man in the middle has to supply four umpires and two linesmen for championship games.

“I was very lucky with the lads I had within the Éire Óg club but with so many grades and games in Cork some referees find it hard to assemble six people for various matches.

“Looking back on the in the intercounty games you could imagine leaving Cork for Galway or Dublin on a Sunday morning you were talking about 10 to 12 hours and that’s some commitment for the umpires that were the key men in my team.” 

Some of the punditry on The Sunday Game isn’t dealing with reality according to Kirwan.

“I have heard some people saying they should get former referees to do umpiring but I can tell you they are totally different jobs as I have experienced myself and it is night and day in comparison.

“My own umpires Brendan O’Leary, Liam O’Leary, Jamesie O’Leary, Denis O’Brien, Kevin Murray, Kenneth Murphy and Noel Twomey soldiered with me for many years and I couldn’t thank them enough for their commitment.

“I have had numerous other people that have assisted me and without naming them can I convey my thanks to all concerned.” 

Since he took up refereeing he believes the game has totally changed.

There is a huge change as The Sunday Game will show seven or eight minutes from the highlights of games and then the expert pundits will spend 25 minutes dissecting the referee decisions.

“My policy is they are three teams in every game as without the team of officials the game couldn’t start, and I can say without question the lads that were part of my team were as conscious as I was at every game.” 


There is a huge opinion in Cork that referees are too fussy and strict in comparison to other counties as Kirwan explained his stance on this issue.

“There are two ways of looking at this issue as there were two prominent GAA men in recent years came out in Cork stating the referees in our city and county have the game destroyed as we were supposedly too strict.

“The majority of referees will allow the game to flow but, in my experience, I have allowed games to move at a fast pace but for me, the biggest problem in Cork is the mentors who will shout referees down when they do not give frees.

“People need to think what they say because you cannot have referees allowing games to flow but then end up getting verbally abused because frees are not given.” 

Kirwan believes former players probably are a better fit for the role in refereeing.

With no disrespect but some guys take up refereeing that never played the game and then referee by the book and that can frustrate for players.” 

Kirwan believes respect needs to come back into the sport.

“If I go to games I stand on my own because some of the comments from mentors and spectators are totally uncalled for, because at the end of the day the majority of referees will make an error or two and they certainly do not go out to do a bad job.” 

Last season Kirwan took up the job of appointing referees to Rebel Óg games and he was shocked when he saw the number of games that have to be covered.

“Again I was stunned when I witnessed the work that the officers of Rebel Óg do and I think the people that criticise them are way off the mark as all they are trying to do is cater for hundreds of kids in many grades in this city and county.” 

Now in full employment at Pepsico in Carrigaline, he is grateful to his employer for their understanding and loyalty.

He would like to see more people getting involved in refereeing as he believes the enjoyment is great if you have a passion for the game.

“You will have more highs than lows but at the end of the day once you are consistent there is little more you can do in the role.”

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