Sean Gallagher may have fallen into refereeing in somewhat bizarre circumstances but it quickly became a passion which he has followed all the way to the top.
The former secondary school teacher was only made a full-time referee in October but has been cutting his teeth as a rugby official for a number of years.
Gallagher was a fresh-faced 15-year-old ready to watch Navan play County Carlow when the referee’s car broke down and he was thrust on to take charge of the Anderson Cup semi-final.
Valiantly stepping in at the last minute, Gallagher had the whistle but not all the necessary refereeing equipment as he discovered midway through his officiating debut.
“I was only 15 but I went out and did it. The game was a draw but I loved refereeing, have stuck with it and 13 years later here we are,” said the 28-year-old.
“I was playing age grade in a team that was really good but I was not starting so I was glad to find another avenue to be involved.
“My first game was an adult cup semi-final and what I’ll always remember about it was towards the end of the first half I looked across and a County Carlow player punched one of the Navan players.
“At that time, I was not a fully qualified referee so I didn’t have any cards and I had to send him off old style by walking him to the sidelines.
“The following week the Navan under-12s asked me to go to County Carlow for a minis tournament where each team had to take a ref and the first guy I saw was their club president who I had sent off!
“He was great about it to be fair and it’s a great example of how rugby is, he welcomed me to his club and he apologised.”
From those humble beginnings, Gallagher continued to referee junior rugby before starting courses and entering the officiating structures of the IRFU.
After time as a teacher, he became a referee development officer for Connacht and his background in education was a big help when he made his debut in the Guinness PRO14 in 2013.
His debut remains a highlight of his young career with Gallagher, the IRFU Young Referee of the Year in 2009, hoping to continue his steep progress up the refereeing ladder in the years to come.
“It was definitely a help being a teacher, whether they are adults or school kids, it is dealing with people and community,” he added.
“Teaching had a massive impact when you are dealing with players or coaches on the pitch.
“Getting a call up to do Guinness PRO14 rugby was probably my biggest highlight to date. It was Zebre v Edinburgh out in Italy in 2013 and at the time I was still developing as a referee.
“Refereeing is the best seat in the house and to be that involved on the pitch at the weekend is what does it for.
“There’s the challenge too. I like those challenges, having to prepare and review and develop myself continuously.
“The main thing for me is to be consistent in the Guinness PRO14 and Challenge Cup to give myself opportunities to be in Champions Cup that leads on to international games.”
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