The Paddy Russell Story


Tipperary-born Paddy Russell, one of Ireland’s premier gaelic football referees, will forever be remembered as the man in black that had his notebook slapped out of his hand by one of Ireland’s top footballers, Paul Galvin (Kerry) in this year’s Munster final. The player had already been yellow carded, so the second yellow for this offence meant he was dismissed.

The repercussions from that incident – fuelled by cowardly support for the player from former Kerry stars, now tv pundits – hurt Russell so much that he has decided to call it a day.

This and other dramatic moments together with italicised thoughts from his wife, linesmen, mentors and players serve to make this biography, ‘Final Whistle: The Paddy Russell Story’ an outstanding read.

He comes across as a decent man who played it straight down the middle so that when a GAA official remarked after the legendary 1995 final (Dublin v Tyrone) were Russell famously denied Tyrone what would have been a late, late equalising score, ‘he (Russell) has just cost us a million by not playing for a replay’.

This was the game where Dublin’s troublesome Charlie Redmond remained on the field despite being sent off, claiming lamely that the referee had not indicated. Like Galvin, the player had plenty of hometown support but, at the end of the day, neither player comes out of this with any credit, nor those blackguarding Russell. Not even Eoin Liston.

There were also two other hairy moments, the 2006 NFL final clash between Tyrone and Dublin (‘the Battle of Omagh’) and the Dublin/Meath encounter in 2008, ‘the Dust-up in Donnycarney’.

Amazingly, none of the above could remotely compare with, ‘the sheer naked thuggery’ of the 1983 West Tipperary final. Russell (the referee for this game) and his co-author, Jackie Cahill, who write well, give this encounter special attention: ‘I’ve never seen anything like it on the field of play before or since to match the levels of violence I witnessed that afternoon. It was like something out of a movie. Almost every player on the field was fighting at the same time’. We are told that one player was ‘unrecognisable’. Five were sent off, and heavy fines imposed on both clubs.

At various junctures throughout the book, the reader will share Russell’s perplexity, ‘why me?’ when he makes what he believes is an honest decision but which, to others is controversial.

That the 1995 All-Ireland final, the Redmond sending-off and disallowing the ‘equalising’ point sent over by Drumquin’s Sean Mclaughlin.

Ironically, the sending-off involved Tyrone player, now solicitor, Fergal Logan. He it was who, according to the linesman, fell on top of Redmond, but ‘I didn’t his number’. Charlie Redmond knew it was Logan (‘I took grave exception and charged at him’). Russell admits Logan would have got his marching orders had he known his identity. In a way, one can understand Redmond refusal to go off.

‘I was angry, upset and annoyed. The linesman said to Paddy he didn’t think I deserved to be sent off. So, why did Paddy send me off and why did Fergal Logan walk away scot free when, in my view, he caused it all?’

Whatever the rights and wrongs, the incident made the list of RTE’s ’20 Moments That Shook Irish Sport’ in 2007.

The ‘point’ denied Tyrone was created by Peter Canavan who had just kicked his eleventh point. Prostrate, he still managed to fist the pass to McLaughlin who scores. However, Russell was in a perfect position and awarded a free out, ruling that the ball wasn’t off the ground when he fisted it.

Here, the reaction of Canavan and, in particular, the Tyrone captain, Ciaran Corr was exemplary. As Russell’s linesman put it, ‘I think Canavan accepted it and, fair play to him for that. He got his medals later’.

Unfortunately, the referee had to attend a post-match reception for the two teams where Corr spoke to him: ‘I will never forget his words of encouragement. Ciaran told me that the Tyrone players had met the night before and that they were not blaming me for their defeat’.

Corr, who knew his playing career was over due to recurrent injury problems, had this to say in his italicised piece: ‘I saw that Paddy wasn’t feeling the best and human nature took over. I could see by his expression that he was torn. A lot of people would say to me that I’m a bit soft, but that’s just my make-up. Paddy had to go to work the following morning, and so did I’.

Modern-day tv pundits, most of them former All-Ireland stars, would do well to practise sUch dignity.

We are told by the author himself that it spoils a game, especially an All-Ireland final, when he has to send a player off. And, while he never got threatening phone calls, he got plenty of negative publicity in the media which his supportive wife, Margaret and his young children were exposed to. There was also the heckling at games, but the one that hurt him most was that, coming from a hurling county (Tipperary), what was he doing refereeing a gaelic football match?

Well, he did play club football for 36 years, made his way through he whistling ranks to the top and, if the truth be known, made more lasting friendships than enemies along the way. If anything, the book is a timely reminder to those of us sitting on the fence that, at times, a referee cannot win.

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