Michelle top of the world
Assistant referee shines on the line as USA triumph
Wexford's Michelle O'Neill enhanced her reputation as a top-class official at the Women's World Cup in France during the past month and was handed the ultimate accolade when she was selected as an assistant referee for the final.
It was O'Neill's second successive Women's World Cup, having officiated in Canada four years ago, when she became the first Irish woman to achieve the feat, and she created more history when she took to the field for defending champions U.S.A's 2-0 victory over the Netherlands on Sunday.
'It was absolutely out of this world, it lives up to its name: World Cup final,' she told this newspaper yesterday (Monday).
Reflecting on her selection for the biggest game of her distinguished career, she noted that 'everything fell into place with my training, the matches'.
'It was my target to make as few mistakes as possible, to get all the big decisions correct.
'And when I got a quarter-final I came off feeling that it had gone really well.
'We have meetings, debriefs, in the auditorium and it was announced there that we'd been given the final.
'We got a standing ovation from all the other officials.'
The game went perfectly from the officials' point of view and, after the action concluded, the magnitude of the achievement hit home.
'At the final whistle I looked around the stadium and was like "wow". When I was going up to get my medal I was able to pick my family out of the crowd, out of 60,000 people, that was the icing on the cake, it was so emotional,' Michelle recalled.
The 40-year-old is well known in Irish soccer circles for her regular work as an assistant referee in the SSE Airtricity League, as well as a referee in the Só Hotels Women's National League.
She is well accustomed to officiating on the international stage as well, having previously been picked for the Women's Under-20 World Cup final, while she also worked as an assistant referee at the 2015 World Cup in Canada as well as the UEFA Women's European Championships in the Netherlands two years ago.
O'Neill enjoyed a successful tournament in France, having earlier been chosen to officiate at the quarter-final meeting of Sweden and Germany in Rennes.
She was also the assistant referee for Argentina's 1-1 draw with Japan in the group stages, as well as The Netherlands' 2-1 win over Canada.
O'Neill was also the fifth official for the Germany versus South Africa group game and was part of the VAR team for England's victory against Cameroon in the knockout stages.
It's fitting that such a high-profile appointment came on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Wexford branch of the I.S.R.S.
When a group comprising Nick Delaney, Joe Moloney, John Lappin, Tony Busher, Tommy Butler, Stan Kelly, Donal Sadler and Richie Kelly came together to form a referees' panel in 1969, few of them could have envisaged how far they would have come, with Michelle O'Neill proudly flying the flag for the county on the world stage.
'I'll probably take a week off and then I'll be back to work in the League of Ireland games,' she said.