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Connacht call for top New York referee   04/04/2014

(This article originally appeared in this week's edition of the Irish World newspaper)

John Fitzpatrick is one of the top referees in New York GAA.

That fact will once again be recognized this weekend when he makes the trip across to Ireland to take charge of an important intercounty minor game in Leitrim.

It's an honor for both him and the County Board, admitted the New York-born and partially Kerry-raised whistler who will fly to Ireland this weekend to take charge of the Leitrim v Mayo minor football league game which throws in at 12.45pm local time on Sunday, a curtain raiser to the Connacht Under 21 final between Leitrim and Roscommon. 

And although he knows the sudden return to action after a long winter will be a tough test, he is eager to take it on and prove himself once more.  

"My first gig back in Dublin was 2010 when I was chosen as a fourth official for the All-Ireland minor final between Cork and Tyrone," Fitzpatrick told the Irish World last week prior to a New York v Cork NY challenge game up at Gaelic Park.

"That was obviously a great thrill for me. That came about after discussions between Larry McCarthy, who was chairman at the time, and headquarters in Croke Park.

"Last year was my first time doing a game in Connacht which obviously came about because of the twinning between the Council over there and the County Board over here."

Fitzpatrick is happy to represent NY GAA in Ireland if it means keep the relations between the County Board here and the GAA at home going strong.

"If nothing else, it helps to bridge the gap between here and there. It gives everyone a feeling here that you're a bit closer. 

"If it was to have any other benefits, I would hope that encourages people out here to take up refereeing. It's very difficult here to get referees. So if they have that incentive that if they a good job or do it long enough, maybe they'll get an opportunity to referee outside New York."

Fitzpatrick was born and bred near Gaelic Park, growing up just three blocks away. He moved to his parents home of Ballinaskelligs in Co Kerry when he was 12 in 1979 before moving back to this city at the age of 19. His parents still live in Kerry. 

"When I first started refereeing probably 16 years ago now, there were no assessors at any level. The fact that the Connacht Council send tutors out here now once a year, that's tremendous. You then see at the referees' night that there were almost 30 people showing up. The numbers are growing. There are definitely more younger people coming too which is great to see. 

"You can never have enough referees," he added with a smile.

"But it's definitely extremely encouraging to see them go to this effort and come over here. It certainly helps."

He is in a fairly unique position in that he is able to judge the differences between here and home but he doesn't reckon many exist.

"There aren't many different challenges here than there are at home. You're required to be fit, you're required to keep up with the play, you're required to have a first rate knowledge of the rules, you're required to apply the rules in a fair and precise manner. Split second decisions are the same. Integrity is key as well. If you make a decision on the field, you stick with it. 

"That's a very big thing with me - my integrity. If you make a decision, you stand by it. 

"I am looking forward to the trip over. It was a huge thrill for me last year to be appointed to a game in Ireland. Something I never thought would happen. And to be asked again this year, it's even better. It's exciting."

A partner Gotham Dry Wall Inc for the last five years, he gives a lot of the credit to his two business partners, Michael Coyle from Leitrim and Lester Allen from Westmeath.

"It's been going well. Work has picked up in Manhattan since the crash. I'm lucky. I have two very good partners who are involved in the GAA as well and have played a lot over the years. When I tell them I have to take a couple of days off to go referee a game in Ireland, they understand!"