Similar to a player earning a call-up to represent their national team, referee Paul McLaughlin was equally as surprised and delighted to get the green light to be involved in the 2019 UEFA European Under-17 Championships.
The Donegal native is one of four men who will be controlling the technical areas as fourth official when the games kick off on Friday, May 3 and he is excited for the action to start.
"It’s not a call I was expecting, but I can’t wait to get going now and am really looking forward to meeting up with all the other officials and getting started," said McLaughlin.
"It will be very special having it here in Ireland. I think the whole football family of Ireland have been looking forward to hosting this big tournament. It will be a great boost for football in Ireland and the economy having so many visitors into the country for the finals. I was looking forward to attending some of the games as a football fan myself and taking the kids to a few games, but to now be involved personally is even better."
McLaughlin, who is on the FIFA International Referees Panel, normally looks after men's senior football, so there will be a difference overseeing Under-17 games but he does not expect a drop in standards.
"These are the stars of the future you will be watching at international level and in the UEFA Champions League in the next two-three years. I’ve refereed in quite a few of the Elite Qualifying Rounds of the Under-17s since 2014, when I first became an International referee," he explained.
"In my first Under-17 International tournament in Holland in 2014, Ousmane Dembele was playing for France, he is now a senior international and plays for Barcelona. Donny Van de Beek was playing for Holland, he is also now a full international, and we see him excelling with Ajax in the later stages of the Champions League. This is to name just two.
"The standard will be exceptionally high, and all the big footballing nations have qualified. I’d urge everyone to come out and watch a few of the games if they can. It’s not very often Ireland gets to host a competition of this stature and you won’t want to miss it. With the games being in Bray, Dublin, Waterford and Longford, it gives everyone a chance to come and experience this great tournament."
While the focus will very much be on the players, with the tournament tagline of 'Tomorrow's Stars Today' befitting of what McLaughlin preaches about, it is also a massive endorsement of the rising reputation of Irish officials who continue to earn major appointments.
"Personally I feel it’s great and deserved recognition from UEFA and FIFA with many Irish officials being appointed to elite tournaments and games," he stated.
"It proves they are very happy with the standard of referees and assistant referees we are producing, and when we get appointed to these big games and tournaments we do the business and produce professional and high class performances on a par with referees from all the bigger nations, the majority of whom are full time professional referees.
"Only recently Rob Harvey and Rob Hennessy were appointed to this tournament in England last year and they both really excelled and had great tournaments. We have Michelle O’Neill going as an assistant referee to the Women's World Cup shortly. Paula Brady has been appointed to many high-profile international and Champions League games and continues to go from strength to strength, and we have Neil Doyle, who has had many high-profile appointments, including World Cup qualifiers.
"Long may these calibre of appointments continue, and I hope it may encourage young boys and girls to take up refereeing, when they see the opportunities and experiences that refereeing can give you."