Joy Neville can reflect on a job well done at Temple Hill on Saturday, where she became the first female referee to oversee a Divison 1A fixture, taking charge of Cork Con’s 24-17 win over Clontarf.
“Someone said to me before no woman would ever referee a Divison 1A game. I’m incredibly proud. I never had any major aspirations (to become a referee) but this was always a goal I wanted to achieve.
Look, where it’ll go I don’t know. It’s running its course big time. I’m enjoying every second of it and if it continues, it continues and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I have had an amazing time so far.”
The Limerick native is “hopeful” of being part of next year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup referee panel following her unprecedented achievement in the Ulster Bank League.
“I would love to be on the World Cup panel. I’m loving this new chapter in my life and hopefully I’ll have as many memories from this as I had in my playing days. Myself and Helen O’Reilly, another talented referee, are hoping to get on the panel. She was there at the last World Cup so she will no doubt be there this time around, I would love to join her.”
It would be another accomplishment on her CV as she steadily climbs the refereeing ranks. First an inclusion in the Women’s Sevens World Series refereeing panel, then she was touch judge in a Challenge Cup game between Bristol and Bath last month, now this latest milestone.
She reflects: “I didn’t realise where this could go when I first started and I saw Saturday’s game as a bigger deal than running the line in the Challenge Cup game between Bath and Bristol. Today was very special and I was honoured to be out in the middle.”
Neville’s debut was a solid outing, with the Limerick native notably clear in her instructions, particularly at scrum-time and when keeping players onside. Although she admits that her considerable experience as rugby captain didn’t necessarily help when she was earning her stripes as a referee, particularly when it came to communicating with players.
“That’s definitely something I had to learn. I was always able to talk the talk (as a player), you couldn’t shut me up in my playing days,” she quipped.
“However, as a referee you have to learn how to communicate effectively, instead of constant chat as that will just become white noise. Learning how to get across what is necessary fast and direct without being too strict is the most important thing.”
With next year’s World Cup now in her field of vision, the Grand Slam winner predicts a successful tournament for Ireland, and suggested maybe their pool isn’t as difficult as it appears.
“I think people have this preconception with Australia. I don’t think much of the Australian women’s team at the moment. But they do have eight-nine months to prepare for the World Cup.
“I think Ireland have a very good group but they need to just focus on winning their games and I think they’ll do well. You have very experienced heads there in pivotal positions so it’s for them to lead by example. They have in the past and I have no doubt that they will in the future.”
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