Jump to main content



Whistle While You Work: Referees In Focus – Sean Gallagher

Whistle While You Work: Referees In Focus – Sean Gallagher

IRFU international referee Sean Gallagher talks to English Under-20 captain Tom Willis and his Welsh counterpart Dewi Lake at the coin toss before their U-20 Six Nations match ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Irish match officials were active throughout the Six Nations Championships with referees involved in the Men’s, Women’s and Under-20 tournaments. We spoke to Andrew Brace, Joy Neville and Sean Gallagher and profiled them in the match programmes on the weekend of the games against France. Today we hear from Sean on his referee career to date.

It was a rather bizarre set of circumstances that led Sean Gallagher on the road to becoming the referee that he is today. At the tender age of 15, he stepped into the breach when a referee was marked absent for an Anderson Cup encounter at his home club of Navan.

“I was playing a game in Donnybrook against Bective Rangers years ago. Went up and played the game, but when I came back to Navan there was a quarter-final of the Anderson Cup – which is the thirds cup. Navan were supposed to play County Carlow. We were sitting there waiting for the referee to come. No referee showed up,” he recalled.

“I was only 15 at the time. Nobody wanted to referee the game. Eventually someone said, ‘Sean, will you do it?’. I was like, ‘Jeez, I’m not sure about this’. But off I went, did the game and I’ve been refereeing ever since.”

The Meath native initially attempted a juggling act between playing and refereeing, before the latter eventually took over. He made his GUINNESS PRO12 debut in 2013 and also officiated at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland two years ago.

The 2018 Under-20 World Rugby Championship in France was another notable highlight for Gallagher as it has been the starting point for some of the game’s top officials.

“It’s great to get selected for the U-20 Championship, because the referees that are invited to that are the top up-and-coming referees from around the world. It’s normally nine referees invited to it, one from each of the big unions,” he explained.

“Most of the international, probably all of the international referees, that have come through in the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship. Or even Rugby World Cup, they tend to start out in the U-20 tournament. It’s a massive deal for referees.”

Sean took charge of two U-20 Six Nations games – Wales v England and England v Scotland. He was referee for France v Wales in the Women’s Six Nations Championship and assistant referee for the match between England and Italy.

For more information on becoming a referee, please visit irishrugby.ie/referees.