Saturday 20 January 2018


He didn't stoop to sweep up a few blades of grass for posterity, nor did he take one last teary glance around Croke Park and all the splendour of match day that he had come to know so well.

When Pat McEnaney left the field after the All-Ireland football final -- at which he had been linesman -- just six weeks ago it was the final time he would do so in an official capacity.

Arguably the highest-profile referee of the last two decades, he had reached the age of 50, the cut-off point for the inter-county panel, and his selection as linesman was a small gesture for the services rendered over the years.

But there was no emotion, no heavy heart, no yearning for the moment to linger any longer.

Instead his abiding thought was detached from the main core business of the day. He had sat through the All-Ireland minor final and was enthralled at what Tipperary had achieved.

"That was the one feeling I left with," he says. "Someone asked me was that my last time in Croke Park. Tipperary won the minor title and it left a serious imprint on me. I'd love to bring a Monaghan minor team back to Croke Park. That's what I said. Nothing more.

"There was no crying, no saying to myself 'this is my last time here'. I never thought like that."

He was never one for sentiment or nostalgia. He swears he couldn't tell you how many Ulster finals he took charge of. An exact audit of his career escapes him.

"I couldn't honestly tell you. Okay, I do remember the big ones. I refereed three All-Ireland finals and one replay. I did at least two U-21 finals but I can't remember if it was three. Club finals? I did two I think but I'm not too sure. I'm a great man for saying 'that's done, that's dusted, move on'."

By reputation he has been the outstanding referee of his generation. Not everyone would agree, though, because the beginning and end of his career were doused in controversies.

But his propensity for refereeing by feel and instinct for a game, rather than rigid adherence to the rules, endeared him to managers and players.

He didn't always do it by the letter of the law and, as exact application of rules were sought more and more in recent years, how significant was it that he never got to add to his All-Ireland account after 2004?

"That was disappointing, and probably the most disappointing year to miss out was '09," he says. "That was my best year refereeing and they didn't give it to me.

"The All-Ireland final was between Kerry and Cork. I had refereed the Munster final replay in Cork. I sent off Paul Galvin and Noel O'Leary -- it was one of my best games.

"After that I felt 'that's it, they're not going to give me another one'."

Did the maverick tag catch up with him then?

"I had a reputation for letting it go. But I think it was over-stated. I think it was harsh. If you go back down through the games I refereed, I wasn't breaking any rules.

"Common-sense refereeing is about when to play advantage and when not to play it and understanding it. It's about understanding the game and understanding the players.

"One of the biggest advantages I had was that I was still playing football. I knew all the tricks. I knew how to win a free.

"I felt games were easier to referee for me because players got the message quickly that they weren't going to pull the wool over my eyes."

He operated his own 'split second' rule that was an instrument of simple mechanics as much as anything else.

Most referees keep the whistle in their mouths for the duration of a game, their finger on the trigger at all times. From an early stage McEnaney would wrap his whistle around his index finger and draw it to his mouth when a line was crossed.

"By the time you would see a free and you draw the whistle to your mouth, a split-second reaction, you find that something is developing so you let it go.

"Paddy Collins (former top referee) advised me to go back to the whistle in the mouth because I was too slow and it was getting me into trouble. I stuck with what I believed, though.

"It gave me that split second to say 'there is an advantage here, let it go.' It can happen that quick."

He recalls the praise he received for allowing an advantage in an Ulster championship in 2009 that led to a Ronan Clarke goal for Armagh after he had been fouled.

"I got great credit for it but I had been doing it all my life. I think the perception of me as reffing it by my own rules was harsh. Three different committees under three different presidents gave me All-Ireland finals (1996, 2000 and '04)."

His graduation was swift. His first inter-county game was in the 1992 league between Antrim and Wicklow in Casement Park. That much he can remember.

The future GAA president Jack Boothman greeted him beforehand and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams came in to shake his hand afterwards.

"Jack used to carry a hip flask. He claimed it was whiskey but I reckon it was something stronger! He said 'take a slug of that gasun, it will do you the world of good.' I took a slug of it. It must have done me alright. It set me off on my career."

Within four years he had bypassed Ulster and All-Ireland minor finals and into the big time. "I was lucky in that I came through when Paddy Collins and Tommy Sugrue were finishing up. At that time you didn't have the numbers that you have now."

Nerves were never a problem. In fact their absence was often a source of greater concern.

"My big thing was trying to become nervous to make sure that I was focused in on the game. All-Ireland finals in Croke Park, I'd be thinking 'no problem just let me at it'."

Derry and Tyrone's bitter rivalry in the middle of the 1990s was his degree course. "I was going well. That time Derry and Tyrone were at it neck and neck. Viciously so. That's what I was reared on and educated on.

"Ulster was particularly bad in the '90s. It was easier away from it. I loved Derry-Tyrone games. I love the hatred. I thrived on the hatred. They were nasty games. I'm talking about verbal nasty. They wouldn't mind telling you what they thought of each other."

He sent off Peter Canavan three times but still maintains a good relationship. He insists that on each occasion it wasn't directly his call, though.

"I remember going to his house to sympathise when his father Sean passed away in 2003. There was no one in the house when I called with my brother, just Pascal.

"Peter's late mother Sarah, a wonderful woman who subsequently made a habit of calling to our restaurant in Carrickmacross on a regular basis, was in bed but she got up and the house quickly filled.

"She accepted my sympathies but she wasn't long reminding me about my record of sending off her Peter. It took me a while to get the tea that day!"

The infamous 1996 All-Ireland final replay changed him as an individual. He had officiated at the drawn game without a hitch, but early on trouble flared and one of the worst melees in All-Ireland final history ensued.

He sent off two (Meath's Colm Coyle and Mayo's Liam McHale) but reckons it should have been four, regardless of the consequences of a 13-a-side All-Ireland final. Regrets?

"It's not about regrets. If I had stuck with the two guys I went with first of all, John McDermott and Liam McHale, it would have been a better call. But the row was big enough for four, no question about that.

"I said to Paddy Russell and Kevin Walsh -- my linesmen that day -- 'boys I don't give a damn if it takes us two hours to sort this out. Everyone be calm here.' I was ultra-calm. Unfortunately we didn't get it all right. It should have been four.

"It would have left a 13-a-side All-Ireland final. You would be conscious of that at the time. But if it was again or two or three years later I would have done it."

The fallout hit him hard, but within two months his father died at the age of 69.

"(That game) changed me as a person," he says. "As an individual it changed me. I was only 34 at the time.

"People forget the drawn game, which was a cracking game. I refereed it and at that time I was rated the best referee. I came from nowhere to be best referee in the country. But in the space of two weeks I became the worst referee in the country.

"There was a lot of criticism at that time. I was exposed big time in the media. But then my dad died in November '96. I suppose that was the only good thing that came out of his death for me. That put a sense of direction on where I was going. The All-Ireland became a pale shadow after that.

"Those things that happened around that time made me the person I am. I was able to box it off and then the target was a few people who needed to be proved wrong here."

By 2000 he had another All-Ireland final, the draw between Kerry and Galway, and he was able to put '96 further behind him when he refereed Mayo in an All-Ireland final again in '04. Those finals were largely blemish-free.

In time he would develop a habit when he refereed games in Croke Park of taking a quick glance up at the giant screens at either end of the ground in Croke Park if he thought they could come to his aid.

It was unconventional, hardly best practice, but it worked for him when he ignored a penalty claim at the Canal End in the Dublin-Louth qualifier in 2010.

He regrets not taking more time, however, when he allowed Benny Coulter's goal to stand for Down against Kildare in the All-Ireland semi-final a month later, a huge, game-changing call that he knew was wrong within seconds.

"I knew coming back out that it wasn't a goal. I couldn't see the screen clearly. I was running and the sweat was running down my eyes but I knew.

"You always have regrets: 'Jesus Christ why didn't I just go back in like.' I did consider it."

If he can catch a glimpse of a screen in the heat of battle, does it not then make sense to 'go upstairs' in more orderly fashion with some key decisions?

"I would use any advantage I had to get the right call. I believe we have other steps to take before we get to that point. I think if we revert the square ball to what it was in the 2010 league it would solve a lot of controversies. It's like in any business, you eliminate the small problems first."

He never once felt threatened coming off a field and had a principle of not reporting managers for anything they said to him, and he believes it earned him respect in the end.

"Myself and managers often had incidents. Managers would have said things to me, I would have said things to managers. I was a great believer in keeping what was said on the pitch.

"Some things said to me weren't nice but I was well able to look after myself. I never reported a manager in my life. I had run-ins with Jack O'Connor -- we clashed in Parnell Park one day, an angry exchange coming off at half-time. We shook hands though, made a point of it.

"I think it gained me more respect than I lost. There were times when managers could have been hauled in, but no. I'm not suggesting that referees should go down that road. It's just something that worked for me."

The way he always did his business.

Irish Independent

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