All-Ireland referee Mick Monahan
Down the years Raheens GAA Club have produced some extremely talented footballers while their sister club, Éire Óg Corrachoill, have done likewise in the small ball game.
Raheens, of course, were the first club in Kildare to win a Leinster Club football title back in 1980/81 and remained the only Kildare club to do so until Moorefield added their name to that exalted list being crowned Leinster kingpins in 2006 and again in 2017.
While Pat Dunney would be the most recognised name (hurling and football) throughout the land, another Raheens man would be up there and well recognised in all GAA circles, far and wide.
For eight seasons the Caragh native was up there with the top whistlers in the game as his record testifies.
The icing on the cake for Mick Monahan's refereeing career arrived in 2005 when he took charge of that season's All-Ireland senior football final when Tyrone and Kerry went head-to-
head, the northern boys clocking up their second All-Ireland victory, adding a third some three years later.
Was Mick Monahan expecting to get the call for that All-Ireland final?
“To be honest I didn't really expect it but I refereed the Ulster semi final that year, Derry v Armagh; a few tight calls I got right, and they were highlighted on the Sunday Game, and I remember after that match one of the match assessors saying to me ‘that game will stand to you’.”
It probably did.
It was back in 1998 when Mick Monahan arrived on the national stage as a referee and in the following eight years took charge of practically every big game at some stage, including the final of the four provinces, a minor final, Leinster club final, various colleges All-Ireland and Leinster finals, a Junior Champion-
ship final, along with being the top man in his own native county of Kildare all through those times.
Mick played with his local primary school in Caragh and Naas Vocational School; played soccer with Caragh Celtic before moving to Derry Rovers in Timahoe “for an undisclosed transfer fee” but GAA remained his first love.
He was a member of that Raheens side, so successful in the ’70s and early ’80s.
He won a Leinster Leader Cup medal back in 1978 but as he says himself “it was nearly three years before I played another senior championship game such was the talent in the club at the time.”
In the Leinster Club Championship of ’80-’81, Mick lined out at wing forward in the opening round against St Vincent's, going on to win Leinster, and he readily recalls the day they played Nemo Rangers in the All-Ireland Club semi.
“We went down to Cork on the train the morning of the match; we barley had time to tog off and get out on to the pitch, with lads eating sandwiches and whatnot; crazy really as it sounds these days but back then no one knew what was the best thing to do, preparation-wise” says Mick laughing.
If we were doing that these days we'd be gone down the night before and be well prepared but sure we had no experience of playing at that level despite having the likes of Jack Sharpe and Huge Delmer looking after us — and they would be up there with the best of lads at that time — but it was just a different era, different time, adds Mick.
Of course you must remember that was all of 40 years ago and when you think of the lads we have lost over those years, and especially in more recent times it brings into perspective.
“Ever since Spud (Murphy) and Butcher (Mullen) died we have lost John Sharpe, PJ Earley, John Joe Byrne, Podge Kavanagh, Billy Grehan, when you think of them all, we have had a hell of a belt in the last few years.”
Mick Monahan was still lining out with Raheens when one evening at training the chairman asked him would he be interested in putting his name down on a list for refereeing.
At that time, and little has changed since, the Co. Board were regularly looking to recruit new whistlers and appealed annually for people to come forward.
Of the belief he was simply putting his name on a list Mick agreed but “little did I know what I was after doing when a week or so later I got a phone call from Pierce Freaney (then referee co-ordinator in the county) to referee a match.”
No courses, no exams, no seminars, whistle, notebook, coin and pencil and you were on. “I never even saw a rule book to be honest” but did a few underage games and within a few weeks was taking charge of a senior league match (1993) between Carbury and Allenwood.
I was eventually given a rule book and I remember going through it and one particular rule stood out in my mind, it was concerning a 13m free that stated if someone comes off their line and touches the ball a penalty should be awarded.
“I could not believe that” insists Mick, “I actually thought it was a miss-print. I mentioned it to a few lads and not one was aware of it.
“And you know something, I only saw that rule being implemented once; one day Bernard Duff (Suncroft) was officiating and awarded a penalty after a player came off his line” quickly adding “he was nearly lynched.”
Obviously though this new referee on the block made a good impression as some three years later he was asked to join the panel of Leinster referees, didn't suit at the time but a year later he was again asked and this time decided to give it a go making rapid progress, having initially started with a few inter-county junior championship games.
Unlike when he joined up for club action, the inter-county set-up was different with fitness tests, at least twice a year and if you failed that fitness test you were immediately dropped.
After just one year refereeing in Leinster Mick was brought on to the panel of referees at national level again progressed quickly taking charge of an All-Ireland minor football final in 2000.
From there on it was all going one way as big game after big game arrived and in no length of time had taken charge of senior provincial finals in all four provinces.
Did you enjoy it?
“I did, and the fact that I had my own umpires with me made a big difference; going to your own lads in situations was a big, big help; it was great to have lads with you that you could trust. I mostly had the same four all the time, brother Jack, John O'Toole, Kieran O'Donnell and John Joe Byrne; and then if for some reason one of them could not make it, which in fairness did not happen too often, I would have a few lads on standby such as Patsy Power, Noel Connelly and Gerry Power.”
Asked if he felt there was any difference between taking charge of a game in any of the provinces, he gave an instant reply.
“The North was different, definitely.”
For some reason I did a lot of northern games in my time but there is no doubt they were different, higher intensity levels, adding laughing “and not just on the pitch and it matter little which venue you were in, the intensity was the same in them all.”
Any particular occasion or happening stand out?
One in particular stands out he says, “I think it was 2005 semi final between Derry and Armagh, that was tough; but it was also the first time a referee was connected to the GPS tracking device, I thing the University of Ulster were doing a major survey at the time.
The game was in Casement Park recalls Mick and “I was in the referee's room (the boys were gone down for a cup of tea) and this lad came in, put the kit on me, wires here there and everywhere, contacting me up with the linesmen, along with the GPS device.
“I noticed a big lad at the door of the dressing room, security man if you don't mind; he just stood there, said nothing and when I was all connected up the lad that was wiring me said ‘when you go out on to the pitch I will turn on the GPS and it will be live from there on’ and off he went.
“However,” adds Mick “when he was gone out the lad on the door, who had not opened his mouth at this stage, suddenly said to me ‘that's a load of b-ll-x’ and I just looked at him and he added ‘the only reason they put that on you is so they will be able to find your body after the game’.”
All I could do was laugh, said Mick, adding, “but I did notice he had a bit of a smirk on his face as I brushed passed him heading to the pitch.”
While Mick acknowledged there was a lot of travelling involved, he would still be waiting for word to arrive week after week where, if any, game he would be doing the following Sunday.
“You would get the appointment by letter early in the week; check if everyone was available for the day; I drove all the time and you could be anywhere, from Derry to Cork, to Donegal to Tralee, Galway, Mayo, anywhere.
“Most of the time we travelled on the same day; an odd time we might go the night before but mostly travelled on the day.”
And on the weekend of the All-Ireland final of 2005, did you and the lads stay over the night before?
“No, we actually drove up that morning; stayed that night and had a good night; we had a choice but I preferred to sleep in my own bed that night before the final.”
Mick admitted that while not overly nervous the day of that final, the few days coming up to it, if anything, were more head wrecking.
“Certainly the day before it; didn't think a lot about it but then a lot of people were ringing me, wishing me well and all that so I turned off my phone; went off on my own; went over to the Curragh for a long walk; that was probably the worse day, but once we got into the car to head to Croker I was fine; it was like we immediately went into match mode and there were no problems thankfully.”
Any big calls in that Tyrone-Kerry final?
There was one in particular, said Mick and in involved John Joe (Byrne).
“You know John Joe only died a few months ago, God rest him, I went up to see him a week before he passed and before I left him, he brought up that particular call saying ‘I got that call right in 2005 didn't I’.”
The incident, said Mick, involved none other than the Gooch Cooper and Tyrone keeper Paschal McConnell.
“The play was at the far end but something had happened at the opposite end and I went back in to see exactly what it was (Gooch was on the ground); Kieran (O'Donnell) said, like all good umpires, ‘I saw nothing’ but John Joe said ‘there was nothing in it, they only brushed off one another’ so no action was taken.
“Incredibly the incident was not picked up on camera, despite all the cameras around but the play was down the far end and it never showed up or even mentioned afterwards, which I can tell you was a great relief.”
Ask any player, especially at the highest level, if there was a ground they prefer or have a liking for and most will just say two words, Croke Park.
However asking a man like Mick Monahan who has refereed at ever top, and many far from top, grounds throughout the 32 counties was there any ground he looked forward to taking charge of a big game and his reply is somewhat surprising.
“Believe it or not, I always felt that for the best atmosphere there was no beating Clones; like being down in a bowl, when Clones was full there was no better atmosphere, a brilliant place to referee and a place I always loved.”
You mentioned earlier about the Sunday Game, would you make it your business to look at it especially after taking charge of a big game?
“Sometimes I did and sometimes I didn't, I never really liked looking at myself on television because you would undoubtedly see mistakes you had made; I always reckon that every referee, regardless of the sport, would at some time make mistakes but I just hoped when it happened it was not a major mistake.”
Mick admitted that it was a great feeling after the All-Ireland final to be able to sit down with his ‘team’ and relax, with no controversy.
But not all games went to plan and Mick recalls one in particular, where, according to himself he missed a foul and when he saw in on the telly after he could not believe it.
“It was 2003 and the All-Ireland semi final, Armagh and Donegal, I got a call wrong in that game and got pilloried, and rightly so, but there followed a death threat that the gardai took seriously at the time. Some fella rang Leixlip GAA and said the referee was going to be shot.
During the game I missed an elbow, in actual fact I was so close to the incident I could have got hit myself but when I saw it on television that evening, I nearly got sick; and it affected the family; affected my wife Ann Marie and the my lads. That was probably the hardest one; it affect me; ye, and I could see how it affected others.
“Front page news on the Daily Star; Gerry Ryan condemning it on radio; and in the end it turned out some lad was drunk and rang Leixlip, but it was not nice but thankfully probably the only real bad incident throughout my career.”
On the home front Mick Monahan, who is the manager in Chadwick's Hardware in Naas , refereed no less than five senior football finals. “I'm usually only accredited for four finals in 2000, ’02, ’03 and ’05; retired in 2007 but when asked to go back in 2008 I agreed to and when that final ended in a draw I got the replay; it was a game my heart was not in and while I did it and there was no controversy, it was my last game.
“I really should not have gone back, it was not fair on other referees at the time, but that was my last game.”
It is often recalled the SFC semi final one year between Sarsfields and Johnstown-
bridge when the Caragh man sent off the great Niall ‘Nuxer’ Buckley for a foul on Tony Kerrigan.
“There had been a bit going on between the two boys and Kerrigan was soloing down the wing when ‘Nuxer’ took him out. Ber-
nard Duff was doing the line but I did not even have to consult him, it was a red card all day long and while I did receive a few phone calls (not from the club) the decision was never going to be changed despite the pressure.
Looking back now, how would Mick Monahan sum up his career?
“Hard to believe it was all packed into eight years but it was brilliant and I have to say having the four lads with me was vital; we worked well as a team, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, brilliant.
What did it mean to me?
“Just remember John Joe Byrne, a week from meeting the man above, yet he was still so proud of getting that call right (assuming he got it right) in 2005, but that sums it up, that's what it meant to him, to the lads ... and to me ... everything.”
Mick Monahan, a proud Raheens, Caragh and Kildare man and to this day held in the highest esteem through-
out the world of GAA.
And rightly so!