Meath's All-Ireland winner

November 30, 2007
When David Coldrick first put a whistle into his mouth back in 1994 he could never in his wildest dreams have imagined that he would referee the biggest game on the Gaelic football calendar 13 years later. But countless matches after that initial sojourn, yet still only 30 years of age, he stepped out onto the Croke Park pitch on the third Sunday of September this year to referee a unique All-Ireland SFC final between Munster giants Kerry and Cork. There is no greater honour that can be bestowed on a referee than to be chosen to take charge of the Sam Maguire Cup decider, but so rapid has the Blackhall Gaels' clubman's rise through the whistling ranks been that it was always very much on the cards that it would happen once a suitable final pairing presented itself. With both Meath and Dublin exiting the title race at the semi-final stage, it was obvious that Coldrick would be in the running for the big one and his dream of refereeing the All-Ireland final was confirmed when he received a phone call from National Referees' Co-Ordinator Pierce Freaney on the last day of August. It was time for joy, excitement, nerves and everything that goes with the territory. The big day a couple of weekends later was to be tinged with a degree of sadness because David's father Benny, who is one of his regular umpires, missed the final after suffering a mild heart attack. But by the time it came to referee the Meath senior final replay between Seneschalstown and Navan O'Mahonys on the first Sunday of November, he was back waving his flag again. Cormac Reilly from St Mary's replaced Benny for the Croke Park showdown and the other umpires were David's brother John, Gerry Lynch and Seamus Gaughan, and what a tremendous experience it obviously was for all of them. Paddy Kavanagh had been the previous Meath man to referee the All-Ireland SFC final when he officiated at the Kerry - Dublin showdown in 1985 and David became the fourth man from the Royal County to be so honoured, the others being Dick Blake in 1894 (Dublin v Cork, drawn game and replay) and Peter McDermott in 1953 (Kerry v Armagh) and again in 1956 (Galway v Cork). The high esteem in which David is held was obvious when he was chosen as the Irish referee for the International Rules matches against Australia in 2005 and 2006, but the All-Ireland final was undoubtedly the highlight for a man who first got involved in refereeing by taking charge of under-age matches. He didn't take long to get the hang of it and he was chosen as the county's 'young referee of the year' in 1995. Things steadily progressed to a level where he was a member of the national panel by 1998, having earlier made it onto the Leinster panel. Before this year's replay he had also refereed a Meath senior final in 2004 when Skryne got the better of Simonstown Gaels, while his biggest assignment at inter-county level had been the Munster final two years ago. But nothing can compare with refereeing an All-Ireland senior final before a packed Croke Park. "It was great to be appointed," he said. "The news was coming that week and a number of us were waiting for the call. Pierce Freaney, the National Referees' Co-Ordinator, called me to say I had got the final. "It's every referee's goal to get the All-Ireland final. It was a tremendous honour. I started refereeing back in 1994 and this represented the end of one journey and the beginning of a new one." David viewed his appointment for the biggest football match of the year as a great honour for himself, his family, his county, his club and the umpires who work with him and are a hugely important part of the team. He had a special thought for his father, who is one of his regular umpires, but who missed the final. "Unfortunately, dad missed the final," he said. "But he was back with me for the Meath senior final replay. He's doing fine." So how did he feel as the big game approached? Were there butterflies similar to the sort that players experience before such massive occasions? "Yes, I was nervous, without a doubt," he added. "I would be nervous before most big games, but once you get out there and throw the ball in they go. It's probably no harm; you need to be nervous to be in the right frame of mind. "The weather looked terrible on the Sunday morning of the final. You are always looking for a dry day when there is no slipping and sliding. Thankfully, it soon dried up. "People have asked me did I enjoy it? You are too nervous beforehand to enjoy the build-up. But it felt great afterwards. It was a great feeling to get it over with." A top class referee could be officiating at an All-Ireland final on a Sunday and a few evenings later he might be taking charge of a county junior match. Is the approach always the same? "I approach all the games the same, except in the lead up to a match like an All-Ireland final you would look at past assessments you received," David said. "You would be more nervous before a game like that. "All games are big games for the players involved. The day you relax is the day that things can go wrong. I try to talk to the players a lot during games. If they want to question a decision in a reasonable way that's fine. I try to be relaxed. The idea is to try to get the respect of the players." With football played at such a hectic pace in the modern era fitness plays a huge part in the life of the players. The situation is the very same for a referee who has ambitions to take charge of inter-county matches. The bottom line is that you have to be able to keep up with the play. "Referees have to keep fit," David added. "The players are so fit these days. I usually get out of work between 6.0 and 7.0 and in the summer I head to Clontarf where I run along the sea front. I spend a lot of time in the gym at work. I like to keep fit anyway. "Croke Park is such a huge pitch. The first time I refereed there was in a Leinster junior match. I remember being amazed how big it was. You need to be fit to keep up with the play." One of the most aggravating aspects of refereeing has to be the amount of abuse officials take from people on the other side of the wire who tend to place the blame on the man in the middle if things are going against their team. It can be a very thankless job in such situations - but if we didn't have referees we wouldn't have games. "They talk about referees having to have thick necks," he said. "It can get to you at times. You have good times and you have bad times. but the good times outweigh the bad. I'm my own biggest critic and I know when I've had a bad game. But you have to forget about it and look to the next game." As David Coldrick sits down to his Christmas dinner at the end of 2007 he will look back on a hugely eventful year in his life. Refereeing the county senior final replay would have been big in itself, but there was also the biggest one of all at Croke Park in September. So, having attained the greatest honour possible, where does he go from here? "There's a lot I haven't done," he added. "I have refereed only one provincial final - in Munster. It's a great feeling to be appointed to do a big match." And no doubt there will be many other big days out for David and his team of umpires.

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