by Ciarán Ó Flaithearta
Although a life member of the club many of our community might not know Dermot Blake. Dermot has a deep-rooted connection to Galwegians. He is the grandson of founding member and former president Henry St. John Blake, son of past president Bruce Blake and brother to last year’s president Carl. However, with a long line of club presidents in the family, Dermot took a different approach when it came to rugby.
Dermot grew up in Dublin but attended Glenstal Abbey where he later became a housemaster. Although rugby was engraved in the Blake’s DNA, Dermot didn’t play much rugby growing up “I played a bit at under 10s or minis and junior cup was pretty much the extent of my rugby career”. It wasn’t until he became housemaster and rugby coach at Glenstal in 2005 that he found his true rugby calling picking up the whistle and taking charge.
“I took the course because I had to,” says Blake. As the U14s coach, he had to be equipped to take charge of some of the in-house games that took place in Glenstal. Having enjoyed his first year as a referee, Blake soon received a phone call asking if he’d like to join the Munster rugby roster and referee some other games around the province, he happily accepted this challenge.
By 2007 Blake had begun to take charge of some important games around Munster. As the assessments began so did the Branch’s method of testing. They threw Blake in at the deep end, appointing him to games above his current level. Blake took each one in his stride and progressed at a very quick pace taking charge of Junior cup games and the Junior plate final.
Within a year Blake had been nominated by the Munster branch to progress to the IPAS level and started refereeing the AIL. Following a move back to Leinster and Dublin, the 41-year-old started to make a name for himself in the province.
It wasn’t until Blake realised the importance of match preparation, that he began to fully excel on the pitch. Blakes says that there are two different types of preparation one of them is theory and research-based. He does his homework on each team he has been appointed to referee, to ensure he has all the tools and knowledge to referee the game to the best of his ability, “as soon as I get my fixture I start to do my research, looking at the team’s last games and making notes”, after the game phase two commences with self-evaluation, “you have to be your own biggest critique”, says Blake, “I watch back every match I do at least twice, the first time to get a feel for how my game went and to make time stamps and the second time to look at specific points or moments in the game”.
The other method is on-field preparation. In Malahide where he lives Blake along with about 10 other referees come together each week to train on the pitch. Together the group work on fitness through interval training and sprints which replicate a match tempo. They also work on scenarios to better their positioning and to attempt to replicate a match.
During the 2016 season, Blake took charge of The Leinster schools Senior cup quarter-final, and quarter-final replay between Blackrock and Belvedere college, which he remembers fondly, “I still watch it on Youtube and it is, without a doubt, the greatest game of rugby that I have ever been involved in”. Due to his excellent performance in both games, he earned himself the appointment for the most prestigious game in the Leinster Rugby calendar, the Leinster schools Senior cup final.
At the end of the 2016 season, Blake was awarded the Alain Rolland award for ARLB Referee of the Year Award, which he says was all down to the change in his attitude toward preparation that aided him to reach his full potential.
Blake has reached the highest level of refereeing possible in Ireland without becoming a professional, he has assistant refereed in URC games, and even in some European games which he has thoroughly enjoyed, but he knows without a doubt that he never wants to take the next step and become a pro. The loneliness experienced on the road week in and week out is the main reason why he is happy with where he is right now. His only goal now is to continue as national panel referee until the age of 45, “my goal is to get to 45, and every year after that is a bonus”.
Although Blake has been a part of many prestigious games down through the years one, in particular, stood out. Back in 2020, he took charge of the first Bruce St John Blake Memorial cup between Galwegians and NUIG which honours his father. This would be the first and only time that Blake would referee Galwegians. Being a life member of the club, there are rules that prevent him from refereeing Galwegians, but due to circumstances, the two teams came to a mutual agreement and allowed him to referee the game which Blake says was “a real privilege” to be a part of.
Blake believes that the reason he loves refereeing so much is that, “it’s like having a front-row seat to the action” he loves “the sense of satisfaction when I have a good game, just being so close to the action of a high-level game is really enjoyable. I would never have been involved at this level of the game without refereeing”.
As a mental health OT he knows the benefits of being active, and for him refereeing is a fantastic way to do so, “it keeps your mind engaged, it’s an interest outside your daily life, and you can only benefit from having extra interests, I say to my wife, after her and my daughter, reffing is actually the most important thing in my life because I love it, I absolutely love it. When I’ve finished refereeing, she already knows that I will be involved in referee administration because I love refereeing and I’ll need that for me and my mental health”.
Blake believes that refereeing is a great way to “give back and to stay involved in the club”. For Blake refereeing was a way to continue his relationship with rugby without playing and that’s why he would encourage more people to get involved in that side of the sport. Blakes’s message to anyone who is starting out as a referee is the most important thing for a young referee to do is “not to be too hard on yourself, allow yourself to make mistakes because you never stopped making them. Learn that early, accept it, and just enjoy it”