The Irishman also tells us which rugby rule he would change, which Americans he’d invite to a dinner party and what he would be doing if he hadn’t picked up his whistle.
Find out all that and so much more in our Q&A below.
What are your first rugby memories?
Watching Ireland win the triple crown in 1985. I can remember when they beat Scotland and Trevor Ringland getting an amazing try in the corner.
When did you first get involved in the sport?
I played underage rugby with my club Bruff RFC, I continued on playing with them and then I went to a rugby-playing school – St Munchin’s – where a lot of Ireland internationals played – Anthony Foley and Jerry Flannery and fellas like that. I had a cultured left boot and I played fly-half!
Who was your rugby hero growing up?
I would say Serge Blanco or Michael Lynagh or Tony Ward even. Obviously Ward and Lynagh were out-halves and that was my position, they both had magnificent skills and could control a game, they could do all the off-the-cuff stuff as well.
If you weren’t a referee what would you be doing with your time?
Certainly in sport I would’ve liked to have continued with hurling, I used to play as a youngster and one of the biggest sacrifices I had to make was playing the game, which I had to do when I got the contract with the IRFU a long time ago now. Hurling’s quite a physical game so I couldn’t really risk the injuries.
When did you want to become a referee?
I was kind of badgered into by my old man! He pestered me until I decided to give it a go and he’d refereed for a season or so. He obviously saw some attributes in me and thought I might be good at it.
He didn’t referee at a high level but we’d watch matches together and chat through various laws and things.
I’d finished playing rugby at that stage and so he probably thought it was a good way of keeping me in the game and then once I got involved in it, once I put my mind to something I generally see it through.
I would’ve been 22 or 23 and then pretty soon I was refereeing at a level I’d not been able to play at, which gave me great encouragement to continue on.
Tell us about your first game as a referee?
It was an absolute classic between Garryowen and Richmond Under-15s which finished 0-0! I’ve never had a 0-0 since thankfully!
You’re thrown in at the deep end and I don’t remember much about it other than thinking I just needed to survive until the end. I don’t think too much contentious happened to be honest.
What is your favourite memory of refereeing a match?
I’ve been honoured to referee a lot of big games, I’ve done New Zealand v South Africa twice and England v France but maybe my favourite was New Zealand versus France down in the House of Pain.
France won and that was very early in my international career – that match opened a lot of doors for me. It was only my fourth ever international so once I’d refereed it well I knew that I belonged at that level, it gave me an enormous sense of personal satisfaction.
When did you first referee a Guinness PRO14 match?
It would’ve been in October 2004 and it was Borders against the Dragons, it went fairly smoothly but I remember Percy Montgomery was playing for the Dragons at the time.
I remember early in the match they scored a great try and I was doing a bit of puffing and he was concerned whether I was going to get through the game! It was definitely a step up from where I’d been before!
What do you like to do outside rugby?
I enjoy the other Irish national sport of hurling so I go to a lot of the local games here. I also have a Masters degree in international relations so I like politics and history.
Travelling around the world with rugby certainly fits in with some of my interests. My day job is as a tax official and I have an office that overlooks Thomond Park – it’s hard to get away from it here in Limerick!
If you could change one rugby law, what would it be?
I would move the goalposts to the dead-ball line to make it more difficult to score drop-goals and penalties.
And also it would make it easier to defend the bottom of the goalposts, increasingly you see tries scored there and it’s very difficult, if not impossible to defend.
What is your pre-match routine?
I normally like to get to a ground around two hours before a game but I don’t have too many superstitions beyond that to be honest.
Sometimes you have to get mic’d up and chest cameras and stuff, so it depends on the game.
What do you discuss with your assistant referees ahead of a match?
I would’ve reviewed the teams before the game and watched their last couple of matches, get an eye on a few trends that might happen in the game.
Greg Garner is quite clear on key focus areas and we’re expected to deliver on that, it’s my job to ensure that in a team of four we understand what each person is required to do on the day to make sure we get the right outcomes. I’d have a team meeting with them before the match.
What advice would you give to an up-and-coming referee?
I would say stick with it. It’s massively rewarding but sometimes you just have to stick with it when times are tough and you’ll get the outcomes you want if you stick with something for a long time.
What’s the hardest thing about the job?
The travel. You’re away from home so often and away from loved ones probably more than you’d like, you miss a lot of family functions like weddings and christenings and things.
Where’s the most exotic place refereeing has taken you?
Samoa. I ended up in a place called To Sua Ocean Trench which is probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, I think it’s meant to be one of the top ten places in the world. It’s a pool but there’s an underwater tunnel that leads out into the sea, all completely natural and you have to go under, hold your breath for 15/20 seconds to go through, it’s not for the faint-hearted but very beautiful.
If money were no object, where in the world would you like to visit?
I’ve been lucky and been to places like Samoa and Fiji, Australia and New Zealand, and I’d like to go back to New Zealand because I’ve only been in the winter. I always make the effort to go and see something else when I’m refereeing in these countries.
What do you discuss with fellow referees when you get together?
Anything and everything! I’m lucky to have some great friendships throughout the world so it’s great to touch base with people that you’ve not seen for a while. It’s nice to touch base with people and we all have different interests but rugby’s a great community and we always look out for each other.
What are your future ambitions?
I just want to keep refereeing at the level I’m at right now and service the teams in the league, make sure it’s officiated properly and if I can contribute in any way I can I will do!
If you could invite five people to a dinner party, who would you choose?
Jeff Bridges. He plays the lead role in my favourite film, The Big Lebowski, as well as several other classics.
He’s worked with the Coen brothers, and has a dad and brother who were famous actors too, so I reckon if there’s anyone that can get me my break in Hollywood it is him!
Angela Merkel – she’s the leader of the free world now in my view and also leads the biggest country in Europe. Would be great to chat to her about the future of the EU.
Jim Al Khalili – I don’t pretend to know the workings of the universe but I’m completely fascinated by the stars, black holes, the Big Bang, and concepts like the ‘Multiverse’ and ‘Time Dilation’. I’m always watching Jim Al Khalili’s documentaries on BBC4 where he explains all this so brilliantly.
White House adviser Ivanka Trump – she would have great insights into how the White House is really run, and what direction the US is headed at home and abroad.
And Tom Brady – I enjoy watching the NFL, and Brady, who is about the same age as myself, is the most successful player of all time. I’d love to ask him how he manages to produce that consistency and hunger every season and how does he maintain fitness in a very physical league.
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie