Pat McEnaney, from Corduff, is best known as one of Ireland’s top GAA referees, he has refereed many All-Ireland finals and still plays for his local Corduff Junior B team.
When did you first start playing Football?
When I was 9 or 10. I started in Referagh School when a new teacher called Connolly came to the school. At that time we didn’t have a football pitch so since the local graveyard was only half full, the teacher had us playing there. We loved it, but of course there was a big uproar at the school for playing on “Sacred Ground”.
How did you start Refereeing?
I tore my cartilage in my left knee when I was about 20 playing soccer for Carrick Rovers. I wasn’t able to play football the following year so I was just doing light jobs. Padraig Duffy, who is the current All-Ireland Chairman of GAC, was involved with Monaghan refereeing at that time and he asked me to come in and referee a few games, because I could run in straight lines! So that’s how I got involved and it just got under my skin and it’s something I enjoy.
How long ago was that?
I was 21 at that time and I am 40 now so exactly 19 years ago, I’m nearly snookered!
How long did it take to adjust to the other side of the game (not kicking a ball)?
It ran hand in hand. I still play football, so over these 19 years I have been doing both refereeing and playing, but just at Junior B level for Corduff. I have always played with Corduff and won a Junior Championship and an Intermediate Championship with them in 1998. I think my first priority is probably playing Club Football and then refereeing Inter-County Football, so it was very easy to do hand in hand because I knew all the tricks of the game and my fitness level was quite good from training.
Are all your refereeing games outside the County?
I referee club matches in Monaghan but predominantly I am outside the County.
Do you get many insults from supporters?
You like to think you don’t get insults, it is easy for me to say that now. I was talking to some new referees and they were saying they were getting a lot of hassle, maybe I did but I have grown immune to it and risen above it. There have been many a person who has had a cut at me this past 20 years and we would sit up and have a chat about the game and then I would meet people who would say they didn’t agree with the decision I made and such, I admire people like that. I think you need a special temperament to be able to referee and deal with that, it is just part of the job.
What was your most difficult match to referee?
I’m always remembered for the 1996 All-Ireland – the big row, where I really became famous for all the wrong reasons! But I can’t say it was a difficult game to referee. A lot of factors make it difficult to referee a game such as the attitude of players, wet conditions, even yourself if you’re not fully prepared. My attitude now is, it’s going to be a wet day, a very difficult game to referee and anything better that happens after that is going to be bonus!
How do you know if you have done a good job refereeing, is it by the cheers from the supporters?
No, not really. I think you just know when you have done the business, it’s the same feeling as playing a good game of football and when you come off and say to yourself “I got that right today!”
Have you ever received a round of applause for refereeing?
It only happened once in my career when I went across to referee in Crossmaglen for a tournament game, I think. There was about three or four hundred at it and it was announced, “we would like to welcome referee Pat McEnaney who refereed last Sundays All Ireland”, which was a good game and I was happy enough about the way I refereed, and I did get a round of applause – I couldn’t believe it. That was my one and only time.
What match do you remember most?
I think the All-Ireland finals. It’s all about the big game and performing on the big day and probably some people would have felt I may never have recovered from 1996, but I was quite young in refereeing terms and I knew I was capable to come back but it was going to take me a few years. So 2000 with Galway and Kerry was my first time back in an All Ireland final, and the game went well and I refereed particularly well so I suppose that’s the one I remember most.
Would you be nervous refereeing an All-Ireland?
No, I was more nervous togging out for Corduff yesterday then I would be for refereeing a match, which is amazing. So that’s why I have to motivate myself so I have to think the worst because sometimes it is not a good thing to be so calm, you need to be a little bit nervous because you get the best out of yourself when you’re nervous. I get my adrenaline pumping and I really get into it.
What is your usual routine before the match, do you have to talk to the teams?
Not normally, but I have done in previous occasions where there has been a replay and the first match has been very difficult. Generally where there is a replay you haven’t refereed the first match so if the match before had been difficult I would go in and have a word to the players that this is a fresh start here so get on with it don’t be carrying any nastiness over from last Sunday because when I have to deal with it, it tends to get messy. But normally you arrive about an hour and half before the game have a cup of tea with the umpires and lines men and have a brief chat about what is expected from them and just get yourself motivated basically.
Do you ever watch the games you refereed later on television?
Seldom enough believe it or not. If I think I have made a mistake or not sure about something then I would watch it but not normally. I’m not one to look back on mistakes I’ve made and all that, there’s no point crying over spilt milk.
Do you ever think GAA will go down the road of video evidence?
No I don’t think so, we have discussed this on a number of occasions. To me it takes a lot out of the game in the sense we need controversy, people need controversy, they are still talking about different game incidences. You need people talking about the game the following day and making their points on what was right and what was wrong, that’s what it’s all about. But in saying this we have come a long way, we’re now using electronic flags and are now going to go a step further with electronic communication between the line’s men and the referee.
What do the electronic flags do?
These were operating in this year’s challenges and last year’s challenges. The referee wears a little arm-band and the lines men carry the buzzer flags so it is just like a mobile telephone phone it rings or vibrates on your arm if the lines men want to talk to you. You can also talk to them discretely so if the line men buzzes and puts the flag over his chest, this generally says when you’re over beside me I want to have a word with you, but if the flag in up in the air then he wants to talk to you now. Other things like red and yellow cards, they have improved our game big time and clean up the game. Previous to this when you were booking somebody you were just booking them but when you flash a red or yellow card everyone sees that this fellow is serious.
What do you think of the standard of club football now?
Honestly I think the standard of club football is very poor. I think young people now have a lot more money to spend and Saturday nights is their big night out. A lot of things have changed since I was younger, like we never heard of soccer we were just reared on Gaelic football and it was all about saving money for a car or site and whatever, the whole theory was about saving money. Now young people are out enjoying themselves and having a good time and I think some cost to that is on Gaelic Football.
Is refereeing as big as commitment in an exercising perspective as in playing Football?
When you’re refereeing the top level you’re talking about training every second night, you have to, it’s a big commitment. I enjoy being fit and in good shape and it’s good for me, I also play squash in the winter.
Do you feel refereeing is a successful career?
As far as I am concerned I’ve had a very successful career and travel nearly all over the world refereeing matches. Like in Australia last year, New York just there three weeks ago where I have been invited back to referee more matches, and I have been to Paris, Luxembourg, San Francisco, so yes it has been very successful for me and I have got an awful lot out of refereeing. But this wouldn’t apply to all referees I would have to say, but at the top level you do get some kick-backs out of it, but then you set your standards and every step you take you keep setting targets higher and higher.
Many thanks Pat and continued success.
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