The FAI is aiming to increase the number of referees within Irish football by 1,000 and provide the best of them with improved opportunities to progress to the higher levels of the game over the course of a five-year plan to be unveiled by the association on Wednesday.
The target number would represent an increase of almost 70 per cent on the 1,450 referees at all levels that there are at present. A particular effort is to be put into getting more women to become match officials as there are currently just 39 female referees active in the game despite the massive growth in female participation in the playing side of things.
The Development Plan, which is to run from 2020 to 2025 is noticeably short on big spending commitments with general budgets for the coming years at the organisation still under discussion at board level.
But Ger McDermott, the association’s club and league development manager believes that with a combination of more active recruitment and, with the co-operation of the Irish Soccer Referees’ Society, a package of support measures aimed at ensuring a higher percentage of those who qualify stay involved, the overall numbers can be substantially increased.
Leagues that persistently have to postpone or cancel games due to the current shortage of referees will be targeted first.
“We spent quite a lot of time assessing the current situation,” says McDermott, “and there is a particular problem in some leagues where games are having to be called off. The intention is to aggressively recruit for those, by targeting key groups like former players and coaches and organising a lot more beginners’ courses.”
A survey conducted by the association among some of those who took the beginners course over 2018 and 2019 found that almost a quarter, 22 per cent, had not taken up refereeing after qualifying with 40 per cent of those saying that no league had ever made contact about having them do games.
Other research has suggested that around half of those who qualify do not make it into a second season with some deterred by what can sometimes be an aggressive or abusive environment while others simply find that they do not enjoy the role or find it rewarding.
It is hoped that greater contact with and support, in the form of a mentoring or “buddy” system, for those in the early stages of officiating will significantly boost retention rates.
More flexible course structures and skills development programmes intended to help the most promising referee push on towards the currently 65-strong elite level ranks are also core aspects of the five-year plan.
Bohemians, meanwhile, have announced a number of signings and contract renewals with JJ Lunney returning to the club after a year at Waterford and goalkeeper Stephen McGuinness joining from Cabinteely.
Kris Twardek and Anto Breslin have also moved to the Dalymount outfit who will be sponsored for the next four seasons by Des Kelly Interiors. Highly regarded young full-back Andy Lyons is one of seven players to re-sign for 2020.
Cork City have been named SSE Airtricity League Club of the Season for 2019 at the league's end of season awards. It is the third straight year that the club picked up the prize. Shamrock Rovers, Derry City and Sligo Rovers were among the other winners at the event in Trim, County Meath.
Club of the Season: Cork City. Commendation: Bray Wanderers.
Best Community Initiative: Shamrock Rovers. Commendation: Cobh Ramblers and St. Patrick's Athletic.
Best Match Day Experience: Cork City. Commendation: Sligo Rovers.
Best Family Initiative: Sligo Rovers. Commendation: Cork City.
Supporters Contribution Award: Sligo Rovers. Commendation: Cork City.
Volunteer of the Year: Anthony Cooper (Wexford FC).
Multimedia Club of the Year: Derry City. Commendation: Cork City and Shelbourne.
Best Overall Marketing: Cork City.