Wednesday 20 March 2019

Owens: I feared for father's health after Gleeson fallout

Referee James Owens. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Referee James Owens. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

The controversy over James McGrath being overlooked for this year's All-Ireland SHC final did not taint the day in any way for referee James Owens, the Wexford official insisted yesterday.

Speaking at the launch of a new Referee Development Plan, a Croke Park initiative designed to maximise the recruitment and retention of match officials, Owens addressed the issue for the first time after McGrath went public on his All-Ireland final snub back in August.

McGrath, who Owens described as a "friend" gave an interview with RTÉ after Owens was confirmed as the referee for this year's decider between Galway and Limerick, in which he said he felt "betrayed by the GAA."

Yesterday, Owens admitted the furore "took the heat off" him in the prelude to the final and revealed that he spoke to McGrath at the time.

"I've had a conversation with James, before the All-Ireland, there's no animosity there, there's not," he stressed.

"Me and James go back a long way, we have been friends.


"I just hope that, you know, he made a decision, whatever it was, on the spur of the moment.

"If he wants to come back to the panel in 2019, you know, it's not ... we'd love to see him back, I think all the referees would love to see him back."

McGrath stood down from the inter-county referee's panel over the snub although Owens was adamant he would be welcomed back in 2019 should he decide to reverse that decision.

"He's a good referee so if he wants to come back there'll be loads of room there for him," Owens said, adding: "it's an honour to referee and All-Ireland final, there's nothing going to taint that."

Owens was something of a surprise appointment given firstly, he officiated over the Galway versus Clare drawn All-Ireland semi-final. Secondly, it had been reported that the CCCC were disappointed over his handling of an incident in the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final between Waterford and Cork and Owens had, as a result, been marginalised.

On that occasion, Austin Gleeson was seen to have pulled Luke Meade's helmet off and while Owens issued no rebuke at the time, his decision subsequently that he had been happy with his handling of the incident effectively tied the hands of the CCCC in issuing a suspension.

Owens, who said his inactivity at the start of this year was attributable to a knee injury, insisted the reaction to the episode had had "an effect on my family".

"I was very worried for my father at the time because the year before he had a triple by-pass," he explained.

"What I tried to say to him on the Sunday night, or the Monday, you know, I just had to tell him that you need to block yourselves from social media, you're not to buy any papers or anything like that. But sure you tell them to do that and they go and do the opposite. To try to find out what they are saying, what people are saying.

"So yeah, there was hurtful comments."

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