Tyrone's 20-year-old referee can be inspiration to others says county's refs' chief

Tyrone referee Martin Coyle, dishes out a yellow card during his first championship match on Saturday.

THE youngest referee ever to take charge of a Tyrone Football Championship tie believes he can one day take on a senior final.

Just turned 20, Martin Coyle was the man in the middle for the Junior Championship meeting of Errigal Ciaran IIIs and Coalisland IIIs at the weekend.

Most of the players were older than him, some of them were playing senior football before he was born, but the youngster handled the game with authority and assurance.

“Yes, most of them are older than me, but if I do give a free, or whatever it is, I’ll explain it to them if necessary, and generally they get on with it,” he said.

“There wasn’t really much nerves, it’s just another game in the book.”

The Cookstown clubman, who started officiating at senior games as a teenager last year, revealed that Red Hand legend Peter Canavan played a part in his entry into the world of refereeing.

Canavan, a teacher at Holy Trinity College in the town, encouraged the youngster to pursue his interest, and appointed him to school games.

“He was a very good teacher to me. He got me doing lots of school games, until Covid hit.”

Refereeing is in the blood. Coyle’s father, Paul, was a referee for 25 years, and the family tradition continues.

“I had sort of lost interest in playing, and my father, a Tyrone referee himself for 25 years or so, encouraged me at the age of 16.

“It’s very enjoyable, and it’s good for keeping the fitness up, and as a former player, I can get the feel of the games.”

With a sense of duty to serve comes ambition, and a dream to take charge of a Tyrone Senior Championship final sometime in the future.

“Who knows? It’s definitely on the list, but I’ll just take it game by game.”

Tyrone Referees Committee chairman John Devlin is hoping that his young graduate can inspire others to take up the whistle.

“I think it’s absolutely brilliant that we have a young referee who has progressed from the Youth Academy in refereeing in Tyrone, where he has progressed through doing school games, he has done a number of county finals at underage level, and his progression has been really great,” he said.

“Now he has taken charge of his first junior championship match, and he handled it very well and came out with credit.

“It would be great if Martin could inspire a few young referees, and I think he will.

“It takes guts to go out there, take charge of 40 men, take charge of the sideline, and I think it’s brilliant for such a young man to be able to go out and do that and show a bit of confidence in it.”

Devlin continues to seek recruitment to a body of officials dwindling in number, sometimes to critical levels.

“Unfortunately a lot of our referees are up around the 55, 60 age bracket, and they’re going to have to be replaced.

“So the more young referees we can get, the better for our Association, for our games.

“It’s not like years ago, when a young referee is thrown in to sink or swim. Nowadays he gets mentoring, so any young referee going out will have the accompaniment of a senior referee.”

The latest recruitment drive proved successful, and the referees' chief is hoping the trend will continue.

“We got somewhere between 10 and 15 referees from it, and that’s very positive, and some of them have already taken reserve games, so we’re very happy in that respect.

“We’ll probably go again with another recruitment drive in January to get them going early next year.”

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access