For a couple of decades PJ Norman was a highly regarded goalkeeper in the Galway & District League.
Norman remains a familiar face in the local game, making the smooth transition to become a referee, providing valuable service to sport in the west of Ireland.
So how did that happen? “I played until I was nearly 38 years of age; Art Friel, who was [Galway FA] secretary at the time asked me quite a few times would I have any interest in taking up refereeing,” Norman recalls.
“I said fine, but I didn't for a while. I had a young family at the time, I did a bit of coaching. I took a break for a year, but I just wanted to give something back. Art rang me again, he asked me would I be interested in doing a few underage games just to start off to see how I got on.
“It just went from there. I did a beginners course which was a morning at the Menlo Park Hotel, a few referees that are still refereeing now where there at that time too. It went from there.”
From the outset Norman relished and embraced the challenge of refereeing. “I loved it when I started, I love it now, I love the involvement,” he says.
“I enjoy going out looking at the younger referees, seeing how I can help them along too. The biggest challenge for us is to recruit referees and then to keep them after that. It is very difficult. Clubs and the FAI target young lads leaving football to go coaching, but there is nobody targeting the players that are finishing up.
“I feel that certainly the FAI, Galway FA, or even the IRSS, the referees' branch, they should nearly be sending an email to guys they know will be finishing that year or the year after - guys getting to the end of their playing careers. They should be targeted more - even if you got two or three a season you are bringing back a lot of experience from guys that have played the game.”
In recent years Norman has occupied a role as referees' appointments officer which means working closely with Galway FA fixtures secretary Terry Lee.
“More than 1,100 games were played in a six week period,” Norman says about the June return to juvenile and junior action. “The hardest part for referees was the uncertainty leading up to it, when it was going to begin, how they'd keep themselves in shape.
“That goes back to the training aspect again. We have 50 registered members in Galway, when you have matches on seven days a week, some days you'd have 30 matches, other evenings 40 matches. At weekends you'd have 50 or 60 matches a day.
“Referees' main concern is the health and safety of players, but my main concern is the health and safety of them more than anything else.
“Some of these referees were doing an average of seven games a week for the last six weeks. It is a lot to ask, especially in the last couple of weeks with the weather we have had. The clubs and players don't really see this.”
That the last month and a half worked out so well is a testament to the graft and commitment of so many. Norman was an able goalkeeper for West United, Crescent United, and Galway Hibernians.
As a referee the task has changed significantly, but the enthusiasm remains.
**Listen to the full interview with PJ Norman on the 'Cian on Sport' podcast which is available on Soundcloud, Spotify, and Apple podcasts.