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The story of why a referee was forced to hide in the boot of a car after a GAA match

An incident in Wicklow involving referee Johnny Price got more attention than it probably deserved

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David Price with his daughter Harper (3) holding pictures of his late father, referee Johnny Price. Photo: Mark Condren

David Price with his daughter Harper (3) holding pictures of his late father, referee Johnny Price. Photo: Mark Condren

David Price with his daughter Harper (3) holding pictures of his late father, referee Johnny Price. Photo: Mark Condren

The final whistle that November afternoon in 1985 brought joy to the young players of Blessington, confirming their one-point win over Annacurra in the Wicklow under 21 B football final. For the referee, Johnny Price, it signalled the end of his duties. From there he made the short walk to his car to change and prepare for the journey home to Roundwood from Baltinglass. But what happened next turned into a case that's still spoken of 35 years later, and is even familiar to people with only a passing interest, or none at all, in Gaelic games.

Of the many assaults on GAA referees over the years, it is the most notorious: Price was forced into the boot of his car after being confronted by angry supporters of the losing team. The story of a referee being locked in a boot had a uniquely sinister twist and helped create a caricature of Wicklow as lawless and ungovernable. It exposed referees to a new dimension of risk and ridicule. It also left deep and lasting psychological scars for those involved in the GAA in the county.

The story grew legs with the passing years. There was a version that had the referee driven away from the ground by the perpetrators and abandoned, which did not happen. When Price, an experienced inter-county referee, reached his Fiat Uno van he opened up the hatchback door and began changing out of his gear. His youngest son, David, was seated in the front seat when he heard a loud noise, the sound of the car's rear door slamming shut.