Former Cork football captain Seán Levis is glad that he decided to return to refereeing in 2022.
Having briefly dabbled with officiating upon his retirement from the inter-county scene, the Muintir Bháire clubman was able to take more of an active role this year, resulting in him taking charge of the Premier 1 U19FC final between Beara and Castlehaven and the JAFC semi-final between Kilmurry and Urhan.
The dairy farmer, a county SFC winner with Carbery in 2004, effectively retired from club action in 2015 aged 34 after a hip replacement and has enjoyed the new direction.
“I finished playing with Cork in 2008 and I did the referees’ course soon after that,” he says.
“The club here had no referee and they were coming under pressure. I did a few games back then but I didn’t really have the time as I was still playing club football and playing with Carbery.
“I did 14 or 15 games over the two years, which wasn’t a lot. Then, this year, the secretary of the club rang me in the spring and said they were under pressure again from the Carbery board.
“My circumstances had changed as I gave up my job two years ago to go farming full-time, so I had a bit of spare time, though I was doing a bit of under-age training locally.
“Because I had previously done the course, I just needed to do an online refresher and exam. It was easy enough to get back into it.
“The majority of the games have been good and it got me more interested in the GAA again at all grades.”
Even in the short space of time since having to give up playing, Levis found that revisiting the rulebook threw up things that the vast majority might be unaware of.
“There are loads of small rules that players and management just don’t know about,” he says.
“These were things I wouldn’t have been aware of either before I started to read up. The specifics of the mark is on example.
“Players and management mightn’t fully know the rules and then they get frustrated.”
For a new referee starting out, everything forms part of the learning process.
“I find that, the higher the grade you ref, the easier it is,” Levis says.
“The technical ability get better as you go up, whereas the tackling technique of some players is terrible – pulling a fella with one hand and pushing with the other and then asking what the free is for!
“There was one game way back in the year where I let a bit of abuse go early on and the game ran away from me a little bit.
“Every fella started giving it and that was the last time that that happened! When you start refereeing, every day you go out you learn something and you make sure not to let it happen again.”
However, hailing from the footballing heartland of West Cork, he will stay exclusively focused on the big-ball game.
“Niall Barrett [Cork County Board referees’ administrator] rang me one day asking me to do a hurling game,” Levis says, “and I said, ‘I haven’t been to a hurling game since 2002!’
“I wouldn’t be comfortable enough to do one.”
Of course, a referee needs a strong team behind him and Levis is fortunate to have fellow clubman Mick O’Regan, TJ Kelly, Finian O’Driscoll, Timmy O’Sullivan on hand to act as umpires.
“I’ve a good crew,” he says, “but the biggest problem down here is probably getting linesmen.
“For a championship game, you try to get another referee as a linesman and they have to give up their time – they might be travelling 45 minutes to get there. That’s probably the hardest thing.
“When your back is turned, you can’t see everything and it just gives you a bit of reassurance that there’s somebody watching over your shoulder.”
Now, having come to the end of a positive first year, Levis is keen to build.
“We’ll see how it goes,” he says.
“You always want to do the best you can and be involved in the bigger games.
“Those matches, the crowd is bigger and you felt like you were back playing.”
And what advice would he give to other players nearing the end of their careers?
“Don’t do it!” he laughs.
“Only joking, it’s a great way of staying involved in GAA without the commentment of coaching or management can bring and also can be a great social outlet.
“It can help you keep fit and you can still get the same buzz off refereeing that playing brought, from my experience.”