HE IS entering his fifth season as an official at League of Ireland level and looking forward to regaining some normality in his life.
Jason Mannix has enjoyed the break and honestly admits that having weekends free were great, however, with just over a week before the League of Ireland season begins, he is all set to go.
“It will be fantastic to get back onto the pitch,” said Mannix.
“It has been a long break and although I enjoyed the time off, I am really looking forward to the return and to have some bit of normality again.
“There is a feel-good factor around the place and that’s important for everybody. I know it will be some time yet before spectators are allowed to attend games but hopefully, we are closer to that happening."
Mannix took up refereeing in 2012 and has since progressed through the ranks.
“Nine years ago I started my referee beginners course after a serious knee injury playing with Glenvale stopped me from playing the game. I always wanted to stay involved in the sport so refereeing was the path I chose.
My late grandfather, Denis Cullinane, was the foundation to me starting to become a referee.
"He had all the information as he played pitch and putt with referee Pat Cambridge. I joined the Cork referee society and I started off refereeing in the Cork Schoolboys League.
“I then moved on to the Cork Youth league and then the Munster Senior League. In 2015 I got accepted to the School Of Excellence in Dublin. A two-year referee programme and In 2016 I got promoted to the League Of Ireland panel as an assistant and since then I have moved on to become a referee on the panel.
“For me, to have the likes of Anthony Buttimer and Graham Kelly helping you on the panel and the Cork assessors Pat Kelly, Eddie Foley, and Brian O’Regan with the development points was a plus too.”
Having recently passed his fitness test, the 38-year-old from Faranree admits keeping fit during lockdown was sometimes difficult, but once the season was given the go-ahead, training picked up a gear.
“We had our FIFA fitness test in the FAI Training Center in Dublin and this consisted of two tests.
“Test one was repeated sprint ability (RSA) measuring the referees’ ability to repeated sprints over 40m and test two was an interval test, evaluating the referees’ capacity to perform a series of high-speed runs over 75m. There were roughly 60 elite referees from all over the country split into different sections and times to abide by the current restrictions.
“We had 11 from Cork and we trained twice a week as a group in the build-up to the test as soon as we were given the green light to do so. We did mostly runs of the test on astro-pitches and a running track. It was tough at the start but our fitness coach, Kieran McKeown, had us in good shape in the build-up to the test and we all done well and passed.
“During the pandemic, life without football, although I enjoyed the break as it gave me time to reflect, it also showed how much of a big chunk of my life refereeing takes up.
“It made me more aware of what I have done the last few years and the time and commitment needed by all referees.
For a moment I may have questioned it, but then I quickly realised I do it because I enjoy it.”
He isn’t apprehensive about returning as he is confident protocols are correctly put in place.
“With all the guidelines in place now and the checks done beforehand, I don’t think most referees would feel unsafe in refereeing again, but there is no pressure on anybody to return. There is only one change to the laws of the game and this is one I believe will be of benefit to the players.
“The concussion substitute is of good benefits as the player is withdrawn if suspicion of concussion injury. This prevents the player from sustaining another concussion and reduces the pressure on the medical staff. It is still on a trial period but there are good protocols in place and it will need time but I think it is a great idea.”
His main aim for the season is just to get back to enjoying refereeing again.
“Try to do my best in every game and hopefully put myself in the mix towards the end of the season.
“Hopefully the local leagues can return this season in maybe May or June. I see a lot of the lads living near me always talking about it and my two nephews Shane and Dean are playing too and they are missing the game of ball. So for everybody’s wellbeing, it would be great to see activity around our communities sooner rather than later.”
For the Liverpool-mad supporter, it would be unfair of me to not ask Mannix about their season and just how disappointing they were.
“It’s been a tough season for Liverpool so far with all those injuries, the strength and depth of the squad did not help and Anfield missed the fans. But with key players starting to return now and Jurgen Klopp as manager hopefully with us having a bit of luck for a change, we might secure top four for next season and then we can dust ourselves down and go again.”