Rugby referees' feature - Paddy really loves his reffing of rugby matches

Marc James, David Byrne and Huw Jones


David ‘Paddy’ Byrne spent his early days in Mullingar, situated in the heart of Ireland, but has spent much of his time since in Wales, including his long stint in this county, where he is a highly respected rugby referee.
During his time in the Emerald Isle he played some youth rugby as a flanker for the local club but spent even more time in the popular sports of Gaelic Football and Hurling, which evoke high emotions for local derbies.

Gaelic Football explained . . .

In the former sport I jokingly asked him if there were any rules as they play 15 a side and he told me,
“Gaelic Football is played with a round ball, slightly smaller and heavier than a football and played against Rugby style H-shaped goal posts. Points are scored by either putting the ball over the opponent's bar, as with rugby, for one point, or within the nets attached to the goal posts as with football, which is worth three points.

“Tackling in Gaelic Football is confined to tackling the ball and it is illegal to trip, punch, hold, drag, pull or rugby tackle another player – but it is still rough nevertheless!”


. . . And Hurling too!

On the subject of Hurling, where all the players use a hockey-like stick called a hurley,  The small, heavy ball is known as the sliotar can be caught in the hand and carried for not more than four steps, struck in the air, or struck on the ground with the hurley.
It can be kicked, or slapped with an open hand (the hand pass) for short-range passing. A player who wants to carry the ball for more than four steps has to bounce or balance the sliotar on the end of the stick, and the ball can only be handled twice while in the player’s possession.
“There is great rivalry and a drive through villages before local derbies sees an amazing number of flags in all the gardens!
“It is regarded as the fastest game around and there is often blood through hits by the stick or ball – I bit like rugby,” said Paddy with a chuckle!”

Paddy Byrne keeps up with play

Paddy is a Welsh representative - in Tug of War!

Interestingly, Paddy can also lay claim to the fact that he is a Welsh representative in a World Indoor Championship – in the hurley-burley of tug of war!
“My involvement started by accident when I was a working at the Churchill Hotel in Llandaff, Cardiff, and a feller at the bar told me he enjoyed his part in this sport with Shirenewton, in Gwent, and he asked if I fancied giving it a try.
“I went with him to training and really enjoyed the physical challenge before I eventually moved to compete with Llantrisant, which was nearer home, where we did really well in Welsh Championships.
“It earned us selection for the World Indoor Championships in Bilbao, Spain, and we competed in the 640kgs and 680kgs team weight categories – but found it a little different from outdoors because on the purpose-built mats we couldn’t use our heavy, spiked boots but had to rely on ordinary daps (* that’s the old white version of Nike training shoes to you youngsters!). I pulled at No 1 in our line-up, which meant I was the puller nearest the opposition.”
When we asked him how they got on it was a typical ‘Paddy’ understatement as he told us,
“We tried our best!”

Family Matters

Outside of his rugby his family forms the most important part of their life in Crymych, with wife Rhian being praised for her support, despite that the fact that she is not an ardent sports lover, with daughters Cari (22) and Erin (20) also supportive of his refereeing rugby.
He is also learning Welsh as part of his determination to integrate in his Welsh-speaking community but says he’s still not quite at the stage where he can hold a conversation with his local rugby pals!

Shouting at a ref at Parc Lloyd Thomas set him on the way

When Paddy came to England in his construction work he was involved at Stanmore Hospital and since they had a social side he enjoyed some rugby there before moving to the Crymych area in 2001 and starting to watch The Preseli Play at Parc Lloyd Thomas.
It was whilst watching them play that his unasked-for advice for the benefit of the referee caused the supporter next to him to say,
“If you know so much about the game you should take up refereeing because we are short of officials!”
That man was Eirian Edwards, a very good referee and a staunch worker for the Pembrokeshire Society of Rugby Union Referees – and Paddy said he would take up the challenge, as well as joining the refs’ society.

Paddy Byrne right in the thick of the action

Soon busy reffing – and gaining experience from the outset

Before he knew it, Paddy was joining another well-known official in Kenny Davies on a course at Haverfordwest that was led by top international referee Clive Norling – and the following Saturday he was in charge of a youth match between St Davids and Fishguard.
“It was a local derby and there were a couple of early scuffles which I dealt with by having a word with the captains and after that I really enjoyed a game that was played at a furious pace as both team knew what I expected and concentrated on playing rugby.
“I was assessed by John Boucher, who was a great help with his constructive advice afterwards – and the following week I officiated Haverfordwest and Pembroke Youth where I was assessed by the late Keith Bryant, who also took some smashing photos for me to keep.
“The first meeting I had attended of the society was also a real boost because after officially receiving my new whistle, which was presented by Keith, I could see that others raised issues from matches and everyone discussed them without any hint of criticism, as they still do today.

Finals to remember . . .

“In those days we had to buy our own kit but nowadays it is provided, thanks to some generous sponsorship from Mark Edwards, of ‘Eddie’s Rocks’; the nightclub and bar in Haverfordwest.”

In the intervening years Paddy’s refereeing has been recognised when he was appointed to take charge of the Pembrokeshire Junior Union Cup Final between the second teams of Fishguard and Whitland, with The Borderers ending up victorious.
“I really enjoyed the game and both teams gave 100%, which did them great credit.
“I also reffed The Carmarthenshire Supporters’ Cup Final as Felinfoel took on Brynamman and it was nice to walk out onto the pitch at Parc y Scarlets with Jason Summers and Gary Phillips as my two assistants.
“We were miked up so it was nice to have that extra communication and although I had to issue a couple of yellow cards I felt it had gone well between two teams between whom there was a close rivalry, on and off the pitch with their supporters!”

. . . And a friendly to forget!

Ask Paddy if he has ever had to ask himself the question, ‘What am I doing here?’ and the answer is an immediate yes, ironically in what was labelled as a friendly between Tonna and Seven Sisters.
“After five minutes I had already had to deal with several skirmishes as there were clearly long-held grudges being taken on to the field and I had to keep such a tight grip on the next 75 minutes so that I can’t say I enjoyed it one bit – other than the satisfaction of knowing that at least I didn’t have to abandon play!”

Junior matches – a credit to coaches and players

On the counter side Dave would say that some of his most pleasurable games have been reffing junior matches for the county schools.

“Some of the under 14 games in particular have been brilliant because the lads have been well coached and are disciplined beyond their years as their focus has been totally on playing quality rugby.
“Junior finals’ day has been another event to enjoy as excellent organisation by Kenny Davies set the standard, as it did when the late Keith Bryant organised the officials for the Newport (Pembs) Sevens, where we enjoyed not only free-flowing rugby but great camaraderie and good fun together.
Of course, the pandemic has brought a halt to what Paddy Byrne loves doing as his contribution to local rugby but will he take up the whistle again when rugby makes a welcome return.
“You bet I will,” Paddy admits in his rich Irish brogue, “I might be getting older but I still have plenty of time left to continue to make my contribution – and I just can’t wait to get the whistle and my kit back in the bag again!"

Paddy Byrne makes sure the players do not stray offside