Last month’s Bons Secours Hospital Cork Premier SFC final marked another major milestone in the career of referee Alan Long.
The Argideen Rangers clubman took charge of the decider between Nemo Rangers and St Finbarr’s at Páirc Uí Chaoimh and thankfully there were no major issues. It was the culmination of almost two decades of hard work – and also completed a journey back from a near-death experience on the pitch in 2016.
In January of that year, Long was refereeing the Tadhg Crowley Cup final between Clonakilty and Valley Rovers in Clon when he collapsed suddenly. Quick action by the medical teams of the two clubs, and paramedics led by Dr Jason van der Velde, saw him quickly dispatched to Cork University Hospital, where was operated on.
Initially retaining consciousness, he was able to tell the medical personnel that his assumption was that he had suffered a brain aneurysm, which had caused the death of his mother Una at the age of 39.
“I remember going in the ambulance and all of that but I don’t remember much until the Tuesday or Wednesday after the operation on the Monday morning,” he says.
“Ultimately, I was lucky to be alive. It was a weakness in the brain. I was so lucky that Dr Jason was on hand, and the fact that it didn’t knock me out straightaway, that I could tell them what I thought it was.
“There was talk originally that I mightn’t be able to walk or talk again, or not work again, but maybe it was the fitness that helped me.
“I was left home after 10 days and then gradually built things back up, going back to work for a few days a week.”
Back refereeing in May of 2016, he was able to pick up where he left off and even won a county JBFC as a player with Argideen in 2017. That same year, he took charge of the county IFC final between Kanturk and Mitchelstown and the graph has continued upward on the whistling front – a long way from his beginnings in around 2004.
“Declan Walsh in Timoleague was our only ref at the time and he needed someone to ref an U12 game over at the pitch,” says Alan, who lives in Timoleague with his wife Karen and children Ciara, Jack and Danny.
“He rang me and asked if I’d do it and I said, ‘Deccie, I’ve never reffed a match in my life, I’ve no courses done or anything.’ He said, ‘Go away over, you’ll be alright, I can’t get anyone!’
“I did it that night and did a few more for him that year to help out. I enjoyed it. I reffed away underage and then did a small bit of junior – I was still playing football and a small bit of hurling for Timoleague, which was my focus.
“But still, the more games I was doing, the more I was enjoying it.
“I never looked at it as a pathway to anything. I only did it to help out locally and there was always pressure to find referees for games.”
Refereeing the 2012 Carbery JAFC final, he progressed to county level and Munster under-age matches, always with the umpiring foursome of Séamus Crowley, Ogie Crowley, Tadhg Crowley and Christy Crowley – the latter three are related, with Séamus the outlier.
“You’re a team,” says Alan, who works for Lilly in Dunderrow. “You trust each other and you know that they’re not going to be calling you in for silly things.
“I don’t do matches unless I have a full crew. Otherwise, you’re on the back foot straightaway – it looks bad on you and you’re under pressure because something could happen at the other end of the pitch and you’ve nobody there to help you.
“I’d always look back on a game to see if I missed anything or got anything wrong, I’d be fairly self-critical.
In 2019, Alan did the PIFC final between Éire Óg and St Michael’s and from there the hope would have been to do a senior decider. This season, he was in charge of the Nemo-Ballincollig semi-final and the fact that there was no Carbery team in the final aided his chances of getting the final.
“I got the call the night of the semi-final and I was thrilled,” he says.
“I’ve done the intermediate, premier intermediate, a couple of U21s and this was the one I wanted.
“Nemo and the Barrs are two good teams and I knew that they’d go out and play football. I expected a good, open game – it didn’t faze me and I was looking forward to it.
“I was delighted to get the opportunity to referee the county final. It was a great day out with the band, the big crowd and the atmosphere.
“It was great to be part of the occasion, but at the same time as a referee you’re always glad when people aren’t all talking about you afterwards, which they thankfully weren’t!”