A Model whistler
September 03, 2002
Having taken charge of four All-Ireland senior finals, as well as numerous other high-profile matches, Wexford's Dickie Murphy has been arguably the top referee in hurling over the past decade. Interview: Randal Scally.
Dickie Murphy has taken charge of so many high-profile hurling matches over the past decade that he is as easily recognised as some of the game's leading players.
The Enniscorthy man has been arguably the top referee in hurling since the early 1990s, and this is reflected in the fact that he is highly respected not only by his peers, but by the game's biggest names. Murphy is to hurling what Pierluigi Collina is to soccer. The only striking difference is that Dickie has managed to keep his hair!
Murphy was a well-known figure in Wexford GAA circles before he took his first tentative steps into inter-county officiating. A talented hurler, he was a substitute on the Raparees team which won its only senior county title in 1978.
In the same year, Dickie represented Wexford at minor and under 21 level and he helped the Slaneysiders to victory over Kilkenny in the Leinster under 21 decider. He later played senior hurling for Wexford, winning Walsh Cup and Oireachtas medals, but was unable to establish himself in the championship team. He was a member of the Raparees team that reached the county senior final in 1993 (they lost to Cloughbawn) and continued to line out for the club at junior 'B' level until two years ago.
For a number of years, Murphy combined his playing and refereeing careers. His first taste of refereeing came when he was just 17.
He takes up the story: "I was District Secretary of Bord na nOg in Wexford at the time and I soon became aware that there was a shortage of referees in the county.
"I decided to join the Wexford Referees Association, which cost around £1 or £2, and from there I started refereeing matches. Unlike referees starting out now, there was no courses in those days."
Murphy was just 24 when he took charge of his first county senior hurling final in 1985. The finalists were Buffer's Alley and Faythe Harriers and for a youthful Murphy, it was a huge occasion.
"It was a bit daunting in that you had big names like Tony Doran playing. But looking back on it now, I think I was at an advantage in that I had played with so many of the players at county level. It was unusual to have someone so young refereeing a county final back then, but it's good to see that this is no longer the case in a lot of counties," says Dickie who also refereed Wexford county finals in 1987, '88, '89 and '97.
Murphy joined the inter-county panel of referees in 1987, firstly taking charge of National League Division 2 games before progressing to Division 1 fixtures the following year. His first big game came in early 1988 when he refereed the Division 1 clash of Tipperary and Limerick in Thurles.
"That was a huge game for somebody who was only really starting out," he recalls.
"Tipp had won the Munster championship the previous year and there was a big crowd in Thurles. Thankfully, it went well for me and there wasn't any complaints afterwards!"
In 1989, the An Post employee took charge of his first Leinster senior championship game - the clash of Dublin and Laois at Tullamore. He was also the man in the middle for that year's Leinster minor final between Offaly and Kilkenny.
In 1992, Murphy established himself as one of hurling's leading officials. That year's All-Ireland club semi-final between Kiltormer and Cashel King Cormacs, which was only decided after a second replay, catapulted him into the big time.
Thereafter, Murphy was appointed to referee the All-Ireland club final between Kiltormer and Birr. He later took charge of the National League final between Limerick and Tipperary and then came the ultimate honour - to referee the All-Ireland senior final between Kilkenny and Cork.
"I'll never forget 1992 as long as I live," he says.
"To get the three big finals in the same year was unbelievable. Obviously, the All-Ireland senior final between Kilkenny and Cork was the biggest occasion of all. It was a miserable day for hurling but in fairness to both teams, it was a clean, sporting game which made my job very easy."
The 1992 All-Ireland senior final was the first of four Dickie has officiated to date. In 1995, he took charge of Clare v Offaly decider which saw the Bannermen take their first title in 81 years. He also refereed the 1997 final between Clare and Tipperary (the first involving two teams from the same province) and the '98 final between Kilkenny and Offaly (the first involving two teams from Leinster).
In 1997, Wexford had the distinction of being represented in both the All-Ireland hurling and football finals as Brian White took charge of the football decider between Kerry and Mayo.
Murphy has refereed in all of the provincial championships, except for Connacht which is now defunct. He has taken charge of the Leinster finals of 1991, '95 and '98, the 1999 Munster final and the Ulster finals of '92 and '93. He also officiated All-Ireland club finals in 1996 and '97 and the All-Ireland under 21 final in 1998. In fact, the only major final which has eluded him is the All-Ireland minor showpiece game.
Voted Referee of the Year in 1992, '93 and '98, Murphy has also refereed a number of All-Ireland semi-finals and quarter-finals. One of the most famous games he has ever taken charge of was the All-Ireland senior semi-final refixture between Offaly and Clare at Thurles in 1998. The refixture had been necessitated due to an unfortunate time-keeping error in the replayed clash between the sides.
Dickie has handled a number of hurling's so-called 'difficult' fixtures during his career, including the 1991 All-Ireland semi-final between Tipperary and Galway, and the 1999 Munster championship tie between Tipperary and Clare.
"There was a lot of needle in those two games in particular," he explains.
"The rivalry between those counties is fierce, but the media blew it out of all proportion coming up to those games. They were daunting games to referee, but I wouldn't say they were any more difficult that some of the club games I've done."
Murphy, whose panel of umpires comprises his brother Morgan, John Tyrrell, Paddy Buckley, Paddy Shiggins, Matt Flynn and Eddie Cullen, believes that the task of a referee has become a great deal more demanding in recent years. Not only have referees to undergo fitness tests and attend seminars on a regular basis, they are also constantly in the line of fire from TV pundits and critics.
"I still enjoy refereeing but I have to admit it's getting harder. Ten years ago, the only hurling games that were televised were the two All-Ireland semi-finals and the final. Now, you have a situation where TG4 are showing all the big league matches and RTE are televising the championship matches.
"While the extra coverage is great for the game, it makes the referee's job a lot tougher. Every decision is scrutinised to the last and some of the criticism can be very personal. People have got to remember that it is not the intention of any referee to make a mistake."
Despite the added pressure on referees, Dickie is delighted to note that the number of inter-county hurling officials is on the increase.
"It's great to see the new referees coming through - the likes of Barry Kelly from Westmeath and Seamus Morris from Tipperary. A few years ago, I would have been getting a lot more games but with all the new referees, I'm not as busy thank God."
Murphy may have achieved more than any hurling referee of his generation but the amiable Wexford man isn't about to hang up his whistle just yet.
"Refereeing has been good to me and I'd like to keep going for a while longer. If I was to do another All-Ireland (senior final), I might think about retiring after that," he concludes.
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