BY EAMON SCOTT
Outgoing Irish Soccer Referees Society President Paul O’Brien can look back on six years at the helm of the 1000 strong organization with a huge amount of pride and satisfaction given the strong position the body now finds itself in.
In those six years O’Brien has overseen the development of the Irish Soccer Referees Society by adding an additional 250 members while also making the society a more united and effective negotiating platform.
The 26 branches under the society’s jurisdiction have also united their constitutions which allows for better understanding resulting in a more slick election and although unsuccessful and professional collective.
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic O’Brien’s tenure of office has been extended out to October before popular Leeside official Willie Long takes over the position of president.
O’Brien, at 42 years of age, is the youngest ever president of the society but his drive and dynamism have been hallmarks of his time in office, He has overseen the redrafting of the constitution from an eight page document to a 22 page publication which has tightened up regulations and addressed a myriad of issues.
O’Brien, a full-time county councillor for the Labour Party in Co Wicklow was a recent candidate in the February general election and although unsuccessful this time out, the experience has whetted his appetite to run again and he believes the experience gained this time round will stand him in good stead as his image and voice is heard more and more in the Garden County.
Those qualities that have fuelled his commitment to public service has also helped him promote and improve the interests of referees and as he looks to exit the role his good offices and reputation has been recognised by the ISRS with a request to fill the role of National Liaison Officer.
Taking up the game as a 16-year-old Paul O’Brien has officiated in both Wicklow and in the Leinster Senior League officiating up to Intermediate Level while he has numerous top FAI Junior Cup and Oscar Traynor appointments under his belt as well as virtually every cup final in the Wicklow District League.
When he took up the office of national president six years ago he opted not to take any senior representative appointments to ensure that the integrity of the office of President was not tainted by any suggestions of undue influence in choice of match officials.
Without any withdrawal of service from the ISRS to the game in the course of his presidency O’Brien is rightly proud of the more robust structure that he has helped forge in the past six years. “People now take the ISRS much more serious now, We have 26 branches and they all work off the same page. That was not always the case previously but that unity of vision and purpose has ensured that the Irish Referees Society is a much more effective body and the universal rules ensure that the society operates along the same principles thus guaranteeing a more effective and representative body for all members.”
One of the key achievements in Paul’s presidency was the support given to match officials who have been victims of assault and in particular that of Midlands Branch referee Daniel Sweeney who was the victim of an assault during a Combined Counties FL match.
“We were fully supportive of Daniel in a moral, emotional and legal way throughout his ordeal. Because of our improved negotiating powers we have achieved better protocols in how physical assaults are dealt with and the process now sees the FAI Disciplinary Control Unit deal with such incidents rather than at local level.
“This new arrangement offers our members better protection and allows them carry out their duties safe in the knowledge that they have the full backing and support of the ISRS. Data is now being logged and this will assist in the determination of proper sanctions being applied. It also helps assure members to remain in the game and this is hugely important to the overall well being of the game itself”.
Paul also believes that the offer of ‘Associate membership which allows players to try out refereeing while also continuing playing is a significant development in attracting new members to the honourable profession. “There are great opportunities for referees to go to the very top in the game. You probably have a better chance of refereeing a Champions League final than ever playing in one as a player and the opportunities for those who go up the referee ladder is hugely attractive.”
“Look at the likes of Michelle O’Neill who has been appointed to a Women’s FIFA World Cup final as well as top European appointments while the likes of Neil Doyle is also highly regarded with top European appointments. We have excellent officials here in Ireland but we need an influx of members to ensure that we can service the game properly.”
Nationally there are over 1300 whistlers operating with the FAI jurisdiction and O’Brien says the door is left open for those non-society members to join their local branch. “There are so many benefits from membership where we provide guidance, development and support while in the event of an assault legal assistance is also guaranteed. That doesn’t happen in you are nonsociety and coming under our banner offers many advantages. Anyone looking to join the ISRS should check with their local branch to register.”
O’Brien’s tenure of office has been hugely effective and he has laid down a great development path for those who follow. And the good news is that his valued input will remain very close to the heart of the society in his new liaison role, thus ensuring that the O’Brien input will continue to resonate positively for the ISRS.