Shane Toolan's big night in Bundoran this weekend

Ballyshannon man hosts Ulster Rugby Referees' dinner

Peter Campbell


Peter Campbell

Shane Toolan's big night in Bundoran this weekend

This Saturday night Shane Toolan will host the Ulster Rugby Referees' annual dinner in the Great Northern Hotel, Bundoran, as the committee's President.

Based in Ballyshannon, Toolan is well known in many sports apart from rugby, having recently been referees' administrator for Donegal GAA.

Never short of a word (or three!), Shane is well known throughout a wide area, and the Toolan refereeing torch has been handed on to his daughter, Claire, who is climbing the rugby refereeing ranks having only last Sunday refereed a Connacht underage final.

Shane's love of sport came at a very young age: "My first involvement was with Salthill GAA Club of which my father was a founding member," says Shane, who said he also played soccer, and then when he progressed to St. Joseph's, Galway (The Bish), rugby and athletics were added to his sporting portfolio.

"We reached a few Connacht finals; won a few and lost a few, and in my last year I played in a Connacht Colleges soccer A final; a Connacht Colleges rugby final and I won the 100m and 200m schools. So sport was a big part of my life from an early age."

From there Shane progressed to Ballinasloe when he joined the bank and he played rugby, soccer and Gaelic there. From there it was on to Bundoran where he played senior championship.

"Then I was in Letterkenny where I played all sports for three or four years and from there to Buncrana.

"I played rugby with Letterkenny, Inishowen and one year with Donegal Town before coming to Ballyshannon where I played my last three years and we reached the Forster Cup final in 1992."

After his playing days, Shane, like many others, was coerced by PJ Buggy to become involved in the Aodh Ruadh Bord na nOg and it led to him and Michael Daly taking the U-12s for a year.

"From that, it got me involved with the Southern Minor Board and that got me into refereeing for the first time. It was the Gaelic football first; I was still playing rugby. Then one day at home an invitation to join the rugby referees dropped through the letter box and I decided I'd try it.

"So that's 23 years ago now and I went off and took the course and it took off from there. I got as far as senior level, travelling all over the country and in Scotland," says Shane, who officiated at up to a dozen Ulster finals at different levels and being involved in the All-Ireland League when there were 10,000 people at matches.

"It was fantastic to see the well-known players like David Humphries, Tyrone Howe, Ryan Constable, all the guys that are on TV now; Jeremy Davidson, Paddy Johns playing at the height of their powers."

Then Shane was invited to get involved at referees' committee level and after 20 years he became the Junior Vice-President; then the Senior Vice-President and this year their President.

"I was the first man outside the traditional Six to hold this position and to me, it's a huge honour for anyone. But for me to be from Galway and living in Donegal, to be asked was a momentous occasion. It shows the way Ulster Rugby is inclusive; they don't see any barriers," says Shane. "When I joined the Ulster referees I was welcomed with open arms," he said.

As President, Shane was asked where he wanted to host the dinner and he decided on the Great Northern Hotel "because many of the boys like a game of golf".

"At first there were some gasps, as the dinner has never been hosted far from Belfast, but there is a big crowd anticipated," said Shane, who is looking forward to the event. He has enlisted well-known Donegal man, Jason Black, as the keynote speaker on the night.

There are three other referees from Donegal involved with Ulster Rugby - Lewis Alcorn and Carl Quinn from Letterkenny and Paul Clifford, Buncrana, who like Shane, is also a GAA referee. Of course, Claire Toolan is the only female referee from Donegal.