Fulltime whistle for Shane McDermott after 12 years in charge
After 12 years refereeing first-class rugby games the curtain will come down for Shane McDermott on Sunday. Logan Savory reflects with McDermott on his transformation from a promising rugby player to a leading New Zealand referee.
When a series of concussions ended Shane McDermott's rugby playing days he mapped out a pretty clear plan. Well, he thought he had anyway.
Rugby has always been McDermott's passion and when his playing days came to an abrupt end in 2003 the focus turned elsewhere.
He'd decided coaching would be his gig.
In 2004 he stepped straight in to help his Star Rugby Club in Southland and also started to tick off some coaching courses.
At the end of that season, he decided telling players who he had played with what they should be doing, might have all come a bit quick.
Southland-based international referee Keith Brown was also hounding McDermott, trying to coax him in to have a crack at refereeing.
It all seemed like a good idea for the bloke better known by most as Gappy.
Referee for a couple of years, before restarting that coaching quest. That was McDermott's plan.
At the end of 2004 he had refereed a couple of junior games, by the end of 2005 he had controlled some senior games at a division two level in Southland.
And by 2006, McDermott found himself blowing the whistle in a first-class fixture - Southland v North Otago to be precise.
It was an ironic situation, considering McDermott played for both Southland and North Otago.
As a player, McDermott debuted at 19 years old for Southland in 1997 and finished in 2003, which included that year helping Southland beat Italy 40-18.
McDermott also played a season for North Otago in 1999.
The referee rise happened quickly for McDermott and that initial plan to coach vanished as his new role turned a lot more serious.
Twelve years on from that first-class referee debut, McDermott will officiate his 82nd and final first-class game on Sunday when Taranaki and North Harbour clash in Auckland.
He has carved out a memorable career as a referee and is grateful for the opportunity to stay involved in rugby on the first-class stage, following transition from a player.
"I never expected to [referee] for more than a couple of years but it ended up going pretty well, probably a lot better than I thought."
"As many people have said to me, I did a fair bit of refereeing when I was playing," he joked, in regard to his willingness to offer referees advice from first five-eighth.
The early days provided some tricky challenges as he ended up controlling matches which often featured many players he had played with or against.
Generally McDermott, who is now based in Tauranga, said it didn't cause too many problems.
"Certainly the Southland side of '06, there were a lot of guys I'd played with and against, but it was fine.
"It was at the absolute hardest when I refereed the [Southland] club final in 2007 between Star and Woodlands, and Star won in a close one.
"It had never really mattered in any game until that one, I found that really hard. I knew guys from both teams but my old club side won, so that made it hard."
In regard to highlights through his 81 first-class games to date, he puts the 2014 Counties Manukau and Mid Canterbury fixture at the top of the list - simply because the Ranfurly Shield was involved.
He also points to the Southland-Manawatu game in Invercargill just a matter of a fortnight ago as a special one.
"It was nice to get back on Rugby Park for one last time. It was 20 years since I debuted at Rugby Park and 20 years later here I was still running around, so that was nice."
On the flipside, McDermott admits there had been the odd horror day - particularly early in his career - where he wondered why he put himself through it.
"Auckland-Manawatu in 2009, it was my first year in the first division and I had a bit of nightmare game.
"It was a train crash, what could go wrong did go wrong. I did walk off and wonder, 'why am I doing it?'
"But that was a long time ago and you live and learn, you need some of those to get better,"
From the outside looking in, refereeing can seem lonely.
However, McDermott said it was far from the case, highlighting a good support network and camaraderie amongst the referee community.
At the grassroots level, he concedes it can be a lot more challenging in terms of sideline abuse. But generally, there was a good respect for rugby referees in New Zealand, McDermott said.
"The advantage we have in rugby over a lot of sports - I look at soccer as an example - is players have a pretty good respect for referees in rugby.
"I think about what soccer referees go through compared to what we do and we are pretty well supported."
While McDermott's first-class career as a referee will come to an end on Sunday as he retires, he will still remain involved in Bay of Plenty club rugby where he is three games away from 100 premier games.
He will also be involved in top-level games in the future as a TMO.