Dubliner Rob Harvey’s consistent progress as an elite referee has been acknowledged by UEFA as he prepares to take charge of his first-ever Europa League group stage game.
The Artane native, an English teacher in Castleknock College by day, will take the reins for the Group B clash of Swedish side Malmo, managed by ex-Man City striker Uwe Rosler, and Swiss outfit Lugano.
Harvey will be assisted by Wayne McDonnell and Mark Gavin running the lines, while Dundrum’s Neil Doyle will act as fourth official.
Harvey is the first Irish official since Alan Kelly in 2013 to take charge of a European group stage game, a mark of his steady ascent through the ranks of UEFA.
Harvey had an inkling his time might come sooner rather than later, as he’s been on a series of training courses with the association recently, but he admits his surprise it came so soon.
“This year alone, I’ve been on four courses with UEFA, which would seem an indication things are going well,” he tells the Dublin Gazette.
“I’m currently on a training course for VAR, and that was probably an indicator they were planning to use me in the near future.
“If you’re not certified with VAR you can’t do a match where VAR is being used. I would have looked at that and thought I’d be in with a chance next season when VAR came in from the group stages.
“Obviously UEFA have decided to drop me in and maybe have a bit of experience of the competition this year.
“It will be a big thing refereeing with VAR – it’s a whole new thing on top of your general pre-match nerves. Maybe they’re thinking ‘if we put you in now we might be able to take away a few of those nerves’.”
The 31-year-old has taken charge of two international qualifiers since being promoted to UEFA Category 2 level last year, taking charge of games in Sweden and Malta in June.
Harvey was a talented player in his youth with St Kevin’s Boys but decided to end his playing days when he enrolled in the FAI’s refereeing school of excellence in 2009.
He was admitted to the FAI panel in 2010 and worked as an assistant referee for two years before taking charge of his first First Division game in 2012, and the Premier Division a year later.
Like all officials, he admits he doesn’t get everything right, but with a long-term ambition to emulate Kelly and officiate in the Champions League.
Kelly reffed 17 group stage games during his time in the League of Ireland before moving to the United States to head the officials’ union, before becoming the top referee stateside.
“This is kind of the holy grail for Irish referees because we haven’t been here since Alan Kelly in 2013.
“My goal would be to reach Category 1 and that means you’re eligible for Champions League matches, but that’s a long-term aim.
“It took four years to get to this level, so it could be another three or four years to reach the heights of Alan Kelly in 2012 and 2013.
“I’d like to think UEFA think I’m doing a good job,” he concludes, adding jokingly:
“Obviously players, fans and even maybe other officials will have other opinions!”