International Badminton judge Séamus Halpin from Kildalkey. Photo: David Mullen/

‘You can get players trying to get into their opponent’s mindset, trying to upset them’

Pick a capital city, a country anywhere in Europe or Asia and it's a pretty good bet Athboy man Seamus Halpin has visited it at one stage or another - and soon he will be packing his bags and heading off to Paris.

Seamus will be part of a huge influx of people travelling to the French capital first for the Olympic Games and then for the Paralympics. He will, however, will not be going as an athlete to take part in one of these great festivals of sport, or as a spectator, but as a badminton official.

It is in that role he has travelled to events throughout the globe over the past decade or so. In Paris he will part of a team of officials that includes two others from the Meath area and who are top Badminton World Federation (BWF) officials - Sarah Kilfeather from Longwood and Michael Farrelly from Raharney.

Halpin, Kilfeather and Farrelly are all highly experienced when it comes to making the hard calls in international badminton competitions. Now that experience will be utilised in two of the biggest sporting extravaganzas imaginable.

While Halpin and Kilfeather will be heading to the Paralymics in August, Farrelly (who is also secretary of Meath Badminton) is destined for the Olympics itself which kick off on Friday 26th July. It's an exciting time for all three officials, no matter what they have experienced before. After all the Olympic Games and Paralympics don't happen every other year. They are truly special occasions.

Halpin will be an umpire in the French capital while Kilfeather and Farrelly will be linejudges. Whatever the roles all three will be among those who make split second decisions; vital calls that can, for the combatants, make the difference between victory and success; between a competitor winning a medal or not winning a medal; between long-cherished ambitions being dashed or fulfilled. They are very important roles.


Seamus Halpin points out how badminton is a huge sport in many European and Asian countries. Competitions can involve professionals who are prepared to fight and battle, literally, for every point. Matches can be played out before 10,000 spectators in venues, and before huge TV audiences as well. To be an international badminton line judge or umpire taking charge of such gladiatorial encounters is clearly not for the faint-hearted.

As friendly and affable a man as you could hope to meet in your travels around the highways and byways of Meath, or anywhere else for that matter, Halpin (like his colleagues Kilfeather and Farrelly) has to be ready to make the hard calls. There's a toughness, durability, mental resilience and focus required. Composure too.

Badminton might come across as a rather genial sport. Nothing could be further from the truth, particularly when it comes to World championship events involving the hard-bitten pros. Some competitors would push their granny off a bus for a win.

"As an umpire I sit up on the chair and make sure rules are not transgressed, make sure the game runs smoothly and there's no-one trying to hold up games, causing interference or upsetting the opposition," explains Halpin.

"You could get that, even in wheelchair events, although it's not so bad compared to able-body competitions. There you get a lot of tactics, players trying to get into their opponent's mindset, trying to upset them, fist pumping and stuff like that," the Athboy native explained when he came into the Meath Chronicle to talk about his life and career in the world, the hard-edge world, of big-time badminton.

"As an umpire you have to cut that out. Some players, if they can't beat their opponents on fitness and skill, will try every other manner and means of doing it."


Having grown up close to the handball ally in Rathmore, it's hardly surprising that Seamus Halpin played that sport as a youngster. He also tried athletics with Fr Murphy AC - but it wasn't long before he came across the attractions of badminton, and got to love the game. His family - who run the well-known Halpin transport company - weren't involved in the sport. His father, Jim Halpin, has won numerous All-Ireland titles as a set-dancer, but badminton. Not really.

Seamus played for clubs in Athboy, Bohermeen, Gibbstown, Navan, Stamullen, Kildalkey, Kilmessan. "Sometimes when you move up a level, a club might not have that level or team so you have to move," he explains outlining the reason for his various transfers.

While he rose to a relatively high level in the sport as a player, especially in provincial and county competitions, it was as a umpire or line-judge that he reached the international standard. In that role he has travelled to some exotic and strange places. The kind of places most people never visit.

The city of Kazan in south-west Russia, on the banks of the Volga and Kazanka rivers, for example. "Russia is a lovely country, they're just very strict there with everything, getting in, getting your visa, there's also a very different standard of living. We would usually be there in February for the Europeans and it would be very, very cold but Kazan is a beautiful place."

He reckons he has been to two-thirds of the countries in Europe in addition to Asian locations, including Japan, where he officiated at the last Paralympics. Badminton, he reminds you, is huge in Asia.

Closer to home he has officiated at the All-Englands, one of the most prestigious competitions in world badminton, where all the big names of the sport invariably wash up. Soon after talking to the Chronicle he was heading to Glasgow, then Canada and after Paris he will be jetting off to China.

When not travelling to some event or other Seamus will spend much of his time watching badminton on TV from his home he shares with his wife Lorraine who doesn't play the sport but clearly understands his obsession.

He says he couldn't be an international official without the support of his wife and wider family. "I work in the family business and it's great because I'm able to get time off. If I was in a normal job I wouldn't be able to travel as much as I do," he adds.

"We say in badminton we have a second family because of the amount of people you meet in the sport, the friends you make. People involved in badminton are so good-natured, nobody's out to hurt each other, do any wrong against them. We might not meet someone for six months but it's like we never parted, that's the way the wider community is."


While visiting the many exotic locations is all very nice there is still work to be done - and pressure to be grappled with. Real pressure especially as an umpire.

"The biggest pressure is making calls. You're looking straight across the net and if a racket passes over the net without hitting the shuttle it's a fault but it all happens so quickly and you have to call that in an instant. Of course you could make a mistake but you have to call it as you see it and you only have the split second to make that call, and that call can be the difference between someone winning a match and losing a match.

"Players will kick up hell over decisions especially if they think you have made a mistake - and you don't have the privilege of watching the replay, there's no VAR but while you're sitting there on the big chair everyone behind you is watching a big screen and they replay that and ask if it is the right decision or not and there could be 10,000 people in the stadium as there often is in competitions in Asia countries where badminton is the number one sport."

Halpin admits there is always the possibility of bribes. He has never been offered any inducements to swing a match one way or the other, he adds - although some officials have been banned for accepting 'sweeteners.'

He is also happy with the way badminton has evolved on the domestic front. "The game is thriving in Meath, we have the second highest number of affiliated players in the country. That's thanks to the committee in Meath."

Now in his early fifties the Athboy man says he has to retire at 55 from top level officiating for BWF events. That means he will be over the age limit when the next Olympic Games comes around.

He has done the Paralympics in Japan but he would have liked to have tried the Olympics. Still, he is very happy with what he has achieved in his career and there's more to come - including, of course, that trip to the Paris Paralympics. Beautiful Paris.