Westmeath man and top hurling referee James McGrath is sensationally stepping down from refereeing after he was overlooked for this year’s All-Ireland SHC final between Galway and Limerick.
McGrath is one of the most experienced whistlers on the national panel of referees, and although he was the man in the middle for the replayed All-Ireland finals in 2012 and 2013, he has yet to be called upon first time.
Traditionally, the choice of referee for hurling’s marquee fixture – which is on the earlier date of August 19 this year, owing to the forthcoming visit of Pope Francis – is drawn from one of the quarter-finals.
By that logic, it was expected that McGrath – who reffed the recent quarter-final between Limerick and Kilkenny – or Tipperary’s Fergal Horgan would get the nod. McGrath was considered the favourite, given that Horgan officiated at last year’s decider.
However, Croke Park made the surprise move of naming Wexford’s James Owens, who took charge of the drawn semi-final between Galway and Clare, for the job. McGrath was not named as standby referee or linesman for the final.
Taking to Facebook yesterday evening, McGrath said: “I’m not your second choice nor your backup plan. Either choose me or lose me if I’m not your first choice.”
In a further statement today, the Turin clubman and deputy principal at Castlepollard Community College announced his decision to resign from the GAA’s national referees panel.
“It is with a heavy heart that I make this decision, but I feel my decision has ultimately been made by CRAC for me to resign from the national referees panel with immediate effect,” he stated.
“It is final and irreversible given the lack of trust, confidence and integrity by CRAC and I feel betrayed by the association as a consequence, given my 18 years of unbroken volunteerism to the association on the national referees panel.
“I wish to place on record my thanks to all my umpires, David Hennessy, David Clune, Tom McNicholas, Johnny Fitzpatrick, Alan Coyne, Paul Reville, Jimmy Weldon among others, and thank all the loyal GAA diehards that I became friends with since I commenced refereeing back in 1996 (Maynooth University), Leinster panel ’98 & the national panel in 2000.
“Wishing James Owens & Johnny Murphy, referees and all officials the very best of luck in the minor & senior finals on Sunday, August 19th next.”
Speaking on RTÉ this evening, McGrath said that he was disappointed not to be involved on All-Ireland final day.
“The general feeling among a lot of the public, friends and indeed members of my own club, county and community would have said I’d have a very good chance of refereeing the final,” he said.
“It’s hugely disappointing not to be involved, because the All-Ireland final is a very special occasion for every match official.”
McGrath’s resignation brings to an end an 18-year stint on the national referees panel.