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The Irish professional footballers association PFAI organized its first referees' beginners course for players, this week in Dublin. Current League of Ireland players were joined by PFAI General Secretary, Stephen McGuinness, and Delegate Liaison Officer, Ollie Cahill, as they learnt the requirements of being a match official.


16 players from Sligo Rovers, Bohemians, St Patrick's Athletic and Shelbourne amongst others, attended the two day course with tutorials and field sessions. Former league referee Pat Whelan and assistant referee John Ward were the course tutors. Both men are still involved in league football as referee assessors on the national panel. Declan Hanney, who has recently retired from the league panel, also gave a talk to the participants.


Each participant was given a copy of the FIFA Laws of the Game; this was followed with group exercises, practical sessions regarding the positioning of the match officials during a game and a written test at the end of the two days.


PFAI General Secretary, Stephen McGuinness about the course: ‘This initiative is just another of educating our members and keeping them involved in the game. Also, it's something that the players themselves have asked if it was possible for them to become a referee in the league when their playing career is over. So we met with Pat Whelan and John Ward and here we are today on what we hope is the first of many courses that we can get our members involved with.’


Declan Hanney said: ‘Initiatives like this will go some way to highlighting the issue of respect. Getting players in a room and explain different aspects of why a referee might make a decision can only be a good thing and will go a long way to improving respect.’


‘Players may think that a referee just turns up for a game, gets on with it and then goes home.  My colleagues and I would have our preparation mapped out once we are informed of which game we are assigned. Preparation is key.’


St Patrick's Athletic player Sean O’Connor said: ‘I think the reason why players are doing this is to get a better relationship with referees. There is also the added thing. At the end of the season when a player is out of contract, they can go and referee if you are qualified and you can earn some money.’


McGuinness: ‘The players have seen it's not an easy job to do but it's a vital part of the game.  If you have no referee and assistants, you have no game.  It will be interesting now to see how players react to decisions given for and against them as we go through the season.  At the end of the course we hope that we have encouraged players to think about another way of staying in the game.  Players usually stop playing in the 30's, referees can officiate until their late-40s.’


After two intense days of learning, the players and tutors were happy with the conclusion of the course. The players now just have to wait for their first assignment as a referee…