Maggie Farrelly: The Cavan woman calling the shots in GAA

Maggie Farrelly Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Maggie Farrelly was first asked to become a referee for her club Laragh United in County Cavan.

When you put the name "Maggie Farrelly" into a search engine, the top hits include the words "makes history".

The Cavan native is a Gaelic football referee, the only woman referee on the Ulster referee panel.

She became the first woman to officiate a men's game at Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) headquarters, Croke Park, as a sideline official in 2014.

That was a first in a series of firsts.

Ms Farrelly went on to become the first woman to referee a men's inter-county Gaelic football match in 2015 when Fermanagh played Antrim in the minor championship.

She took charge of her first senior men's inter-county game, a McKenna Cup tie between Fermanagh and St Mary's in 2016, another first for the GAA.

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Media captionMaggie Farrelly from Cavan became the first woman to referee a senior inter-county Gaelic football match

Ms Farrelly played Gaelic games from a young age with her local club Laragh United, but her decision to become a referee was one of necessity rather than destiny.

"The chairman asked me would I be interested because our club had no club referee at the time," she says.

"The county board introduced a by-law making it compulsory for all clubs to have a referee so they wouldn't give up home advantage, so that's where it started."

She began refereeing local underage matches but she was asked to join the Ulster Referee Academy in 2011.

In a group of 16, she was the only woman.

Image copyright Inpho
Image caption Ms Farrelly refereed a Senior Ladies Championship game at Croke Park.

"It was step-by-step training. We had to pass a rules test and a fitness test. We first refereed at blitzes then we were assessed and given feedback on how we could improve."

She graduated from the academy and started officiating minor games as a sideline and fourth official.

"It builds your experience to be involved at that level, you are moving all the time to reach your potential," she says.

"The first minor game I refereed that was a massive step then I refereed the McKenna Cup game. It boosts your confidence."

'No barriers'

Ms Farrelly spends her weekends driving around Ulster to officiate at club and county games. She said she would like to see more women become referees.

"I think there are plenty of opportunities to become referees but it will just take time for that to happen.

"If people are willing and have the confidence to do it, there are no barriers there."

She has had a positive experience as a female GAA referee, but said she understands that the role can be challenging.

"There are challenges there but I don't think they are gender specific.

Image copyright ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Image caption Ms Farrelly plays her club football with Glenfin GAA club in County Donegal.

"It's about getting calls right, especially getting those big calls right. There is a bit of pressure there.

"You only have a split second to make that call. It's about having the confidence to do that."

Having already officiated at senior inter-county men's matches and in the home of Gaelic games, what's next for the Ulster referee?

"I'm just happy to be involved. I want to strive forward and be the best I can be," she says.

"I want to get on the national referee panel, that's my big goal at the minute."