GAA Football

History-maker Farrelly eyeing NFL opportunity

Referee Maggie Farrelly awards a penalty to Dublin during the TG4 All-Ireland Ladies SFC semi-final match against Cork. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

FEBRUARY 2016. The folk in Clonduff GAC in south Down are keen on recruiting referees. On their website they urge their female members to take up the whistle and “follow in the footsteps of Cavan's Maggie Farrelly”.

Farrelly's iconic status was, by then, already 10 years in the making but it had, just days previously, been embellished by her trips to officiate at the Dubai GAA Festival and the Ladies Allstar gig in San Diego.

A decade on and her star remains in the ascendant. Last Sunday, the First Lady of Laragh made history when she became the first female to take charge of a county SFC final when she officiated at the Ramor Utd versus Gowna replay in Kingspan Breffni.

“I'm delighted to have gotten the opportunity,” Farrelly beams as she shuffles a bottle of water from one hand to the other.

“It's a big step on the ladder of my career as a referee; just delighted really that it's over. I suppose there's an element of relief there yeh too.”

Farrelly, by general consensus, had a good innings last Sunday but she swears that “it was just another game."

"You put in the same preparation and you just have to back yourself. It's all about trying to control those nerves and let that adrenaline drive you on.”

With a Cavan JFC final (2016) and a Cavan IFC final (2018) behind her, the odds were always pretty short that the professional coach would get the biggest gig some time. It was, she admitted, the pinnacle of her career to date: “When I started out refereeing on behalf of my club, I genuinely did think that I was only going to be refereeing juvenile football. Lo and behold here I am now. I've accomplished my dream.”

And the chances of another lady following in her footsteps, sooner rather than later?

“Well, the pathway is there and you have to believe that appointments are made on the basis of everyone's ability.

“As far as I'm concerned referee appointments are made on merit and I never felt there was a glass ceiling or any other barrier preventing me from rising up through the ranks. I have been given the same opportunity as everyone else.

“At the end of the day (as women) we do the same rules' test and fitness test. It's just about getting the opportunity and being trusted to do the job.

“I'm not sure where other ladies are in the pecking order right now but the opportunity is there in Cavan, in Ulster and beyond, for them to develop and be ready for when the time comes for them to step up to the mark.”

A few years ago, Aogán Ó Fearghail became the first Cavan person to attain the position of President of the GAA. What are the odds on the Breffni woman becoming the first female to referee an All-Ireland SFC final?

“That's a long way away at the moment,” she cautions.

“For me, the first step would be taking charge of National League games and I'll take it from there... if I get the opportunity.”

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