Referees are honoured to officiate at Euro finals
The efforts of George Clancy, Johnny Lacey and Andrew Brace have been recognised at the highest level, writes Kevin Galvin
Another fantastic year for MAR referees was capped off yesterday with the news that no fewer than three Munstermen are set to be in the middle for both the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals which take place in Edinburgh today and tomorrow.
George Clancy is down to do the line for the Champions Cup decider for an incredible fifth time in a row tomorrow, while the night before Johnny Lacey will take his second consecutive Challenge Cup final as the man in the middle, joined by fellow Rugby Development Officer Andrew Brace as linesman, both of whom took charge of the two semi-finals of the competition.
"Andy is having a fantastic year having already refereed the semi-final and will be doing his first international game in the summer so all in all it's been a hugely successful year for Irish and particularly Munster referees. It's good recognition for all the time and effort the MAR put into us.
"When we started off on our pathway we got great help from guys like Eugene Mealy, Noel Moore, Johnny Cole who were all great referees in their own right, and obviously helped us in our journey, as well as Eoin Doyle and David McHugh who did a lot once we got to the AIL level. But the MAR at the early stages, which are so important, were hugely supportive and I'll always be thankful for all their help.
"We all go to the MAR meetings on Tuesday nights," concluded Lacey, "and I have huge time and respect for those guys who take charge of games on the weekends all around the province for the love of the game, and as someone who works within domestic rugby in Munster my hat goes off to them for the time they invest."
helping "It's worked out well for us because I'll be helping Johnny with this weekend's Ulster v Leinster game in the Pro12, so it'll be a good opportunity to work together ahead of the final," said Brace, who worked as fifth official at last year's decider.
"It's been a great three years since I started refereeing and I'm delighted to get the opportunity to be with Johnny who's the man who got me into refereeing along with Dave McHugh, so it's nice to be back where it all started.
"We are flying the flag at the moment in Ireland which is good, and before it was guys like Alain Roland at the top level in Leinster, and with us and the likes of Joy Neville and Frank Murphy coming through it's a great time for refereeing in Munster."
For Lacey, it's been a continuing upward trend, as he has been involved already at the highest level in refereeing games at the World Cup and Olympics, and having made his Pro12 debut in Murrayfield, will have a sense of nostalgia heading to the Scottish capital.
"The Scottish fans are great rugby people and it's great to go back to Murrayfield where I not only made my Pro12 debut, but also refereed Scotland international games, including the Calcutta Cup, and if I can get through Friday as well as I did for those games I'll be a happy man.
"It's an honour to referee the final for the second year in a row, Nigel (Owens, who will referee the Champions Cup final) is a good friend so I was glad he got the call-up for that," confirmed former Munster player Lacey, "and it's great to see two referees from the Pro12 reffing in the European Cup finals."
Clancy, meanwhile, is setting records once more, acting as linesman for the fifth year in a row in the final of Europe's biggest club competition, and another who has benefited from the ongoing support of the MAR.
"They give us enormous support and there's great camaraderie there amongst all of us.
"I'm really looking forward to the final, I refereed Saracens and Clermont the last time they met in Saint Etienne, the supporters for both sides were brilliant that day and it's sure to be a cracking atmosphere on Saturday week.
"There's great competition but also we give each other enormous support as well, before you would go away and do your own thing but now guys are far more open with their peers, which means we can all learn from each other.
"The Clermont game earlier this year was the most stressful game I've ever refereed because it was the day Axel died, obviously it was a very emotional time and even though I wasn't close with him we would have met a good few times in UL and it was very difficult to go and referee a game then.
"I've watched both semi-finals and both teams seem to be very disciplined but it's still going to be a very tough game," said Clancy ahead of the title decider, where Saracens will be aiming to go back-to-back. "There's bound to be a few big decisions and it's my job to make sure I do things properly and help Nigel, but hopefully ultimately it will be the players that will decide the outcome of the game."
Perhaps a Champions Cup final in store in the future for the trio, who have all been consistently at the top of their game, ahead of the World Cup in two years' time.
"Well I'm happy if I I'm not there because I want Munster to be in it, and I'll happily stay in the Challenge Cup if it means Munster get to the final, they'll always come first!"