History-making referee Maggie Farrelly says she is proof positive that the GAA is “moving with the times”.
The Cavan whistler became the first female referee to take charge of a men’s senior inter-county fixture when she took the whistle for Wednesday night’s McKenna Cup fixture between Fermanagh v St Mary’s in Garvaghy.
Adamant that gender has neither been a hindrance nor a help in her rise to prominence, Farrelly says the respect shown to her by players has ensured a “seamless” integration into top-level GAA officiating.
“I’m not trying to break down barriers or anything like that,” she remarked after Wednesday’s fixture.
“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.”
Special treatment she neither expects nor demands.
“I am just Maggie Farrelly and I am just a referee. I don’t expect red carpets rolled out for me. I am treated like everybody else. I don’t have high expectations of how I should be treated because I am no different to anybody else. Regardless of gender, I have the same fitness tests to do, the same written tests to do. I get the same support as any other referee.
“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.
“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.”
Asked by her club, Laragh United, to help out when short of referees in 2008, Farrelly never anticipated it would set her on the path of history-maker.
She was fourth official at the Kerry-Dublin league match in Croke Park last year and took charge of the Ulster minor championship match between Fermanagh and Antrim in May.
Being in the middle for a senior game was the inevitable next step and buoyed by the countless texts and good wishes from family and friends and male referees, she kept her cool throughout the McKenna Cup tie.
“I’m not a person who dwells on things,” she said.
“I’m just very grateful for every opportunity that I get and I just embrace it and whatever happens, happens.
“You are out there refereeing for 70-odd minutes and it could be the best 70 minutes of your life or the worse 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.”
Thick skin is an essential component in the DNA of an inter-county referee and Farrelly didn’t shy away from the hard calls in Garvaghy where St Mary’s forward Matthew Fitzpatrick was sent to the line for two yellow card offences.
“Funny enough, I have actually done research into this as part of my Masters in Sports Development and Coaching (at Jordanstown).
“A lot of research would say that to be a referee you would have to have certain characteristics and when I conducted a survey and interviews with fellow referees, a lot of them would say that you would need to have a different skinfold measure in comparison to other people.
“You probably need to smile and nod a lot of the time, you wouldn’t want to take things to heart.
“You aren’t going to get every decision right but you are going to try your best to make sure that you are trying to referee the game within the capacity of the rules and do your best.”
The next step for Farrelly is to take charge of an Allianz League game and, ultimately, to be involved in the championship.
“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 be patient and wait on your opportunities to come.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved