James Owens realises 'lifetime goal' to be named All-Ireland hurling final referee
Wexford referee James Owens expressed both relief and pride at being given the honour of refereeing his first All-Ireland Senior Hurling final on September 6 when reigning champions Kilkenny take on Galway.
The 38-year-old, who narrowly pipped Tipperary's Johnny Ryan for the top job, has taken charge of a number of high profile games in recent seasons, most notably the All-Ireland Senior Hurling semi-finals in 2013 and 2014 as well as this year's All-Ireland Senior Club Hurling final.
Owens, a referee since 1998, paid tribute to all of the people who helped him reach the pinnacle in GAA refereeing and described it as the fulfillment of a dream.
"The relief of getting the phone call this morning was unbelievable," the Askamore man said to Independent.ie. "It's the realisation of a lifetime goal. Since I refereed my first game the aim was always to referee an All-Ireland final and now that's been achieved."
"It's not just about me though. It's a great honour for my family and my umpires and they're all thrilled. They've all put in a huge commitment and they deserve this honour because they've all helped in some way down the line.
"I'm immensely proud and I'm proud that my brother David will be there with me. He's been with me right from the start and it's good to know he's got my back (laughs)."
Owens, no relation to well-known Welsh rugby referee Nigel, cites Dickie Murphy and Pat McEnaney as the men in black who he followed closely growing up and he becomes the first Model man to whistle an All-Ireland final since Murphy in 1998.
He stressed the importance of working efficiently as part of a team to ensure fair play during every game and during Sunday week's final he will be hooked up to eight officials via headset, something he feels works well.
"It's happened that I've made mistakes. This year I signalled for a penalty for Offaly against Laois and I knew almost right away it was the wrong decision," Owens said.
"I consulted with my umpire, who was right beside the incident and threw in the ball instead. That could've been a game changer because the game was in the melting pot.
"In Croke Park for a big game all eight officials can talk to you at any given time so that helps make sure that the right decisions are made as much as possible."
Owens will have Ryan beside him as standby referee while the other linesman is Westmeath's James McGrath and the sideline official will be Owen Elliott from Antrim.
Elsewhere, Paud O’Dwyer of Carlow will officiate the Minor game between Galway and Tipperary which acts a curtain-raiser and throws in at 1.15.