Friday 15 November 2019

'I was very worried for my father' - Online abuse affected my family, says All-Ireland final referee James Owens

James Owens. Photo: Sportsfile
James Owens. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

All-Ireland hurling final referee James Owens has revealed how being in the midst of high-profile incidents in the championship has affected his family.

The Wexford official revealed that they are trained in how to deal with criticism on social media by the GAA, but insisted that referees' families are still affected.

"I've experienced it that my family have really suffered on some of the decisions," Owens said, as the GAA launched their Referee Development Plan.

"It's just the general talk, or whatever, people are talking about this and people are talking about that. It's all on social media. That does have a very negative effect on (referees).

"You know, if you have your family suffering from certain decisions you make, obviously it is going to affect you in a way as well. But that's social media for you. I can't do a whole lot about it."

Owens went on to reference last year's All-Ireland semi-final when Waterford star Austin Gleeson removed Luke Meade's helmet in that game. Having dealt with the incident on the day, Owens opted against retrospective action, leaving Gleeson free to play in the All-Ireland final.

"That did have an effect on the family," he reflected. "I was very worried for my father at the time because the year before he had a triple bypass. You were kind of worried about it. What I tried to say to him on the Sunday night, or the Monday, you know, I just had to tell him that you need to block yourselves from social media, you're not to buy any papers or anything like that.

"But sure you tell them to do that and they go and do the opposite to try to find out what they are saying, what people are saying. So there was hurtful comments ... probably if you look over all the social media websites it's the same guys that are passing the same comments.

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"And it's the same hurtful comments or whatever. Again, I don't get involved in it but obviously I would be aware. They made me quite aware of some of the stuff that was going on. I try to tell them to (ignore it)."

After Owens was appointed to take charge of the All-Ireland final, Westmeath whistler James McGrath resigned from the inter-county panel in protest. However, Owens insists he'd be welcome back.

"I've had a conversation with James, before the All-Ireland; there's no animosity there. Me and James go back a long way, we have been friends. He made a decision, whatever it was, on the spur of the moment. If he wants to come back to the panel in 2019, we'd love to see him back."

Irish Independent

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