A late introduction to playing football, a career with one club, Kilumney Utd and a passion to want to stay involved in football and give something back to the game has given Denis Cronin a long-term relationship with football.
Still actively involved, Denis is now on the schoolboy refereeing panel and brings a wealth of experience to the job.
“I am probably unusual for a soccer referee in the sense that I never played schoolboys or youths soccer.
“I grew up playing a variety of sports which included badminton, fishing, handball, tug of war, racquet ball etc.
“While I never played soccer until I was around 20, I always had a love of sports in general and I think that it was and still is my love of sports that has helped me be the person that I am today.
“As stated above, I never played underage soccer but I got to play with Kilumney Utd when I moved to the area in 1990.
“As for all your managers that I played under, the one that stands out the most was the legend Miah Dennehy.
“His knowledge and experience of the game was infectious, something that I was privileged to witness first hand,” said Denis.
His relationship with referees was positive but he did feel an injustice during one game when the late, Tom Tully sent him for an early bath.
“I generally had a good relationship with most referees and never really had a problem with any of the referees of the time.
“However, I feel I was the victim of a travesty of justice in Hillington Park one Sunday morning when the late, Tom Tully sent me off with a straight red card in the first half of a league match.
Clearly, it was a wrong decision, not that Tom ever apologised for it.
“Ironically one of the referees that I admired at the time was Tom Tully, others that stand out are Gene Stephens and John Lyne.
“After playing with Killumney Utd for 16 or 17 years I decided to go and do the beginners course which was held in the Maryborough House Hotel and one of the speakers on the day was a young referee called, Alan Kelly.
“I decided to try refereeing after playing because by the time I was finishing up with Kilumney Utd I wanted to stay involved in the game somehow and I felt that after playing for such a long period of time that I had something to offer.
“At no stage either then or up to the present day have I ever regretted my decision to take up the whistle,” commented Cronin.
You always wonder is the first competitive game for the referee as bad as sitting a Leaving Cert or doing a driving test but Denis took it in his stride.
“When I qualified as a referee, I was put straight into the AUL because it was felt with my experience that I would be able to handle adult football from the off.
“Whilst, I cannot remember the two teams in question on the day, I can still clearly remember the excitement and the adrenaline flowing as I was about to start a new chapter in my sporting life.
I obviously believe that I did extremely well on the day but I am sure that if you could ask the two teams involved they might have something different to say.
“From that first taste of refereeing, I knew that I had found something that could fill the void left after my playing career was over, I was well and truly bitten by the bug.
“My progression was pretty quick in the sense that I made grade 1 in four years.
“Over the subsequent years, I have officiated in every league in Cork.
“I originally started in the AUL for two years and then Munster Junior for a year and the season that I was made grade 1, I was officiating in the Cork Business League where I had the privilege of being the man in the middle for the Mick Mooney Cup Final and ended up with getting the referee of the year in my league.
“I have already mentioned some of the referees who inspired me when I first started out and there are several referees of today that I admire.
“These include established officials like Graham Kelly, Eddie McNally and Keith Callanan.
“And some of the referees of the future such as Kevin O’Sullivan, Eoin Harte and Chris Sheehan who I believe has what it takes to get into the upper echolons of the refereeing world,” said Denis.
There is without doubt a game that stands out for every referee and for Denis it was a northside derby in Mayfield.
“The game that stands out for me is what I consider to be also the toughest game I have ever done.
“It was the second leg of the AOH Cup semi-final between Village Utd and Knocknaheeney Celtic in Silverheights Park with Knocknaheeney Celtic leading 1-0 from the first leg.
“Unfortunately, I did not have assistants with me on the day and I remember sending two Knocknaheeney players off, both for second yellow card offences.
“Even against nine players, Village struggled to break them down and it was only in the last 10 minutes of the game that Village scored two goals to go through to the final.
“I firmly believe that if the Knocknaheeney players had kept their heads on the day then they would have been the team to reach the final and possibly win the AOH Cup,” commented Denis.
And who has Denis enjoyed most in terms of refereeing, what players caught the eye?
“Being the person in the middle is a bit like having a ringside seat, you get the chance to see the players up close and personal.
“Some of the players that stand out for me over the years are Kenneth Hoey, Gearoid Morrissey and for me, one of the best goalkeepers was Bertie Lane of the excellent Greenmount Rangers of the 90’s.
“Also, I have been fortunate enough to have refereed some of the best women players that Cork has produced over the years, two that come to mind are Denise O’Sullivan and Claire Shine.
“I would certainly recommend that anyone who has a genuine love of the game should take up the whistle.
“While it’s not for everyone, there are a lot of benefits of being a referee.
“You stay involved with the game, you are always meeting new people and you grow as a person in how to deal with different situations that come up all the time.
“I would also highly recommend that anyone who decides to take up refereeing that they join the I.S.R.S. Cork Branch where you have access to some of the most knowledgeable people in the game where you can discuss issues that may have arisen in your games and generally have the full support of your fellow referees.
“Unfortunately, we regularly officiate on our own so it might feel like the loneliest place in the world if things are not going to plan and players, managers and supporters feel that you are fair game to be the brunt of their frustrations.
“I know that some people think that it’s a thankless job but personally I can’t wait for my fixtures to come out.
“I still get that buzz when I turn up to the pitch ready to go and do the best job I can on any given day, I would never say that I will get every decision right but I try to get into the best possible position to help me get the calls right.
“If I feel that I have got every critical decision right then I can cope with a missed offside or a minor infringement,” concluded Denis who spoke to Paul Hogan for Cork Sports News.