Friday 23 February 2018

History-making ref Farrelly has league tie as her next goal

Maggie Farrelly issues a yellow card to Danny McBride of St Mary's during Wednesday's rain-lashed McKenna Cup game in Garvaghey (Photo: Sportsfile)
Maggie Farrelly issues a yellow card to Danny McBride of St Mary's during Wednesday's rain-lashed McKenna Cup game in Garvaghey (Photo: Sportsfile)

Orla Bannon

Without wanting to be fast-tracked or left behind, Maggie Farrelly accepts that taking charge of an Allianz Football League game is the next logical step in her refereeing career.

The Cavan lady made history on Wednesday night, becoming the first female to take charge of a men's senior inter-county fixture in the Fermanagh v St Mary's McKenna Cup game in Garvaghey.

She has been blazing a trail for GAA women for a while now, refereeing an Ulster minor championship match last year and operating as fourth official at the Kerry v Dublin league opener in Croke Park almost 12 months ago.

Ulster Council president Martin McAviney has championed her career and hopes that she will make the National Referees' Committee within the next two or three years, while also stressing the importance that "no-one rushes Maggie or the system".

It's an ambition she too now shares, and she knows it will happen when the time is right.

"Since 2013 I have been on the National support panel so in that capacity I get to officiate in the National League and other competitions, but the next progression I suppose would be to referee in the National League.

"That's another step on the pathway as such, and you just have to wait on your opportunities to come.

"Appointments are always made on merit so you just have to be patient and wait your turn as such, to be given your chance to officiate."

Adamant that gender has not been a hindrance nor a help, it's obvious anything Farrelly has done up to this point she has earned.

She was reluctant to conduct any interviews in the wake of her historic appointment the other night until encouraged to do so by the Ulster Council, and she's a well-grounded individual who just wants to get on with the job with the minimum of fuss.

"I'm just grateful for the opportunities that I'm given - I'm not trying to break down barriers or anything like that," she says.

"I suppose it goes to show that the GAA is moving with the times and they are very much into integration.

"We see women more and more involved in different roles and different capacities now, and that's great to see.

"But I'm no different from any other referee, apart from gender obviously.

"The lads that were in the same (Ulster Council) Academy as me from 2011 to 2013 have went out and refereed their first game as well, and people probably wouldn't have realised that."

Asked by her club, Laragh United, to make up the numbers due to a shortage of referees in 2008, Farrelly never dreamt it would set her on the path of history-maker.


Buoyed up by the support of family, friends and male colleagues, she stayed cool under the spotlight at Tyrone's centre of excellence, just making it business as usual, showing four yellow cards and one red to St Mary's full-forward Matthew Fitzpatrick.

Common sense is a useful trait not always immediately evident in referees, but it's a quality Farrelly seems to have in abundance and she applies it to life on and off the pitch.

"I'm not a person who dwells on things. You are out there refereeing for 70 odd minutes and it could be the best 70 minutes of your life or the worst 70 minutes and you just have to deal with it.

"As soon as you cross that white line you are the referee and when you cross that white line again after the 70 minutes, you are just Maggie Farrelly, you are just yourself.

"You can't think otherwise I suppose."

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