Peter was awarded the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) Referee of the Year award at a ceremony in Donegal this month.
Having been honoured as referee of the year by his national football association, you might expect that Peter Flaherty had always had a love of officiating, but the Carraroe native actually fell into refereeing.
As coach of a local under-15 side, Peter received word from the local FA that there was a shortage of referees. The club was obliged to send a representative on a refereeing course. When no-one else volunteered to go forward, Peter, still a player for Mac Dara of Carraroe’s senior team, stepped up to the plate.
Peter’s early days in the black shirt were perhaps unusual for his bending of the rules; a player for a club is not allowed to also allowed be a referee.
To get around this, Peter, who played as Peadar Ó Flatharta, registered under the anglicised version of his name for refereeing. He was “cornered” eventually, he remembers, but the authorities had seen potential and he was asked to continue.
That was in 1996 and, by 1998, he had already been nominated to the League of Ireland Senior Panel.
“I had skipped a grade up. I was reasonably fit at the time and I knew the laws of the game,” he says about his rapid ascent, which resulted in him refereeing League of Ireland games by 2000.
It was something he never would have expected as someone who took up the whistle under a degree of duress. To be honoured as FAI’s Referee of the Year came as an even bigger shock.
“The first I heard about it was when I got a call from the FAI asking me would I be available to attend the gala dinner. I thought it was one of the lads setting me up to be honest,” he says modestly.
Peter then went on to represent Connacht-Ulster at the National awards and managed to fend off competition from officials from Leinster, Munster and Dublin-Kildare to scoop the coveted prize.
“It was a lovely surprise, to be honest, but I knew when they started reading out the achievements, I said ‘Jesus, that sounds very much like my career in refereeing!’”
Peter has firm opinions on the game today and feels that players should be allowed play without fear of being “taken out of it” by a hatchet man.
He is not against physicality, however, and if he comes across a would-be Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale or Ashley Young, they can expect little sympathy for their gymnastic efforts.
“I’d love to see a fella diving, because I’d have the card ready for him before he’d get up off the ground.”
The approach of punishing diving definitely works, he says, and he relishes arriving at a ground and overhearing the players tell each other that they’ll “get nothing today” from the referee.
He believes that the addition of goal-line technology would detract from the game, but he says that the recent addition of goal line officials in some European competitions is a “waste of an official” when they restrict themselves to reporting on goal line incidents.
“There are blatant handballs and penalties happening in front of them. They all have the technology, the earpieces, now, but yet they don’t tell the referee ‘That’s a red card or a yellow card’.”
One thing often used by detractors from the game as a stick to beat soccer with is the behaviour of players towards referees. Respect campaigns are, by and large, ignored by players in the top tiers of European football. Peter believes that referees can be their own worst enemies in this scenario and has no qualms about brandishing a yellow or a red card for abusing the referee. Nonetheless, he feels there is no excuse for this behaviour, especially towards amateur referees facilitating the game.
“Everybody makes mistakes, but nobody leaves the house to be abused, either,” he says.
At 45, Peter is approaching the end of his tenure for refereeing at the top level, but trains three nights a week and shows no sign of stopping at junior level, where his refereeing career began.
“I can keep refereeing at junior soccer until I’m barely able to walk, I suppose, but the day that I’m not able to keep up with the play is the day I’ll give it up because there’s nothing worse than the referee calling an offside from the centre of the pitch,” he says.
He is currently assisting two young referees in their development and would like to see more people come to the job at a younger age, as FIFA referees must retire at 45 and League of Ireland referees at 46.
“It’s a short life as a referee.”
Name: Peter Flaherty
Occupation: Soccer referee
Newsworthiness: Peter was awarded the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) Referee of the Year award at a ceremony in Donegal this month.