Retirement age limit of 50 opens door for younger refs, says Curley
THE age of eligibility for the Old Age Pension may be headed upwards but from next year GAA inter-county referees will have to hand in their whistles earlier than ever before.
From January 1 next, 50 years of age will be the cut-off point for referees as the GAA reacts to the added physical pressures on officials while also clearing the opportunity channels for a younger generation.
Up to now, there was no age restriction, but as part of an overall development plan for the next five years, the National Referees Committee (NRC) recommended the change. It's expected that eight to 10 referees will drop off the inter-county panel on age grounds next January. They will, however, be allowed to continue at club level.
NRC chairman Mick Curley said the change would offer younger referees an opportunity to advance their careers. It was also felt that the physical demands on inter-county referees had become so great that it wasn't appropriate to continue beyond 50 years of age.
It's estimated that, over the course of a game, a referee will cover two-thirds as much ground as a midfielder, underlining just how tough the job is before he even starts making difficult decisions. Curley, a former All-Ireland referee, retired at the age of 51.
"It was the right time for me to go. I had done what I wanted to do and I found it difficult at times to keep the training up to the level that was required," Curley said.
The age limit was welcomed by top football referee Pat McEnaney, who will be forced out of the inter-county scene in January 2012.
"There are too many referees over 50 who are clogging up the system. We are not getting our younger referees through quickly enough," he said. "We've got some good young lads coming through.
"We have Padraig Hughes from Armagh, Rory Hickey from Clare, Joe McQuillan (Cavan) is still a young lad, Cormac Reilly from Meath as well. And then there's David Coldrick (Meath), he's still a young referee. We're in good hands."
The plan is for referees who retire at 50 to become tutors and assessors, thereby utilising the vast experience they have gained throughout their careers.
Meanwhile, a new classification system for referees is to be introduced between the end of this year's leagues and the start of the championship. It's expected that around 15 football and 10 hurling referees will be categorised as senior championship referees, with others classed as stand-by referees, linesmen and sideline officials.