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Ambitious Maggie taking moment of history in her stride

By Declan Bogue

Published 09/01/2016

Calling the shots: Maggie Farrelly becomes the first female to officiate a senior match, between Fermanagh and St Mary's
Calling the shots: Maggie Farrelly becomes the first female to officiate a senior match, between Fermanagh and St Mary's
Maggie Farrelly at the coin toss

Three days after making history by becoming the first female to referee a senior match, Maggie Farrelly jokes that she is still thawing out after the miserable conditions of Wednesday night's game between Fermanagh and St Mary's.

Still, there is something of the stoic in the Cavan woman, as she refuses all sympathy.

"It's just the same for the referee as the other officials - and even the players were saying how bitterly cold it was," she said.

"The experience in itself was massive. I obviously thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity and everything else comes from that. You just take each play as it comes throughout the 70 minutes."

As for the level of attention afforded to her, she was comfortable, if not delighted, that there was more interest in a midweek Dr McKenna Cup fixture than usual.

She had experience in this regard, becoming the first female to referee any inter-county Championship game when she took charge of the Ulster Minor Championship match between Antrim and Fermanagh at Brewster Park last summer.

"I suppose after last year, you would have anticipated that there was media attention, because this is a senior game," she admitted.

"You do anticipate these things, but it is just another game. You can't look past it after that. It's just another game and that's it, your focus and your preparation is the exact same, it's how you prepare for it and how you deal with it."

While she was making history as the first female to referee a senior game, it was a bit of a family affair as her younger brother Martin, an Agricultural Science student at UCD, was one of her umpires.

It's always been that way in the Farrelly household. Growing up in Stradone, with the local club Laragh United nearby, she played on the boys' under-age football teams before ladies' football and camogie was formally organised.

Behind it all, her parents Patrick and Kathleen urged Maggie and her siblings Patrick, John James, Kate and Martin to get involved in all sport, driving them to and from games and training.

That love of sport led Maggie to pursue her regular career. She attended Letterkenny IT and then progressed to University of Ulster Jordanstown, where she gained a Masters in Sports Development and Coaching.

Nowadays, she lives in Glenfin, Co Donegal where she has played in the ladies' team for the last number of years. For her day job, she commutes to the South West College in Omagh, where she works on a team programme, sponsored by The Prince's Trust.

Maggie explained: "I work with disadvantaged and disengaged youths, who are between 16 to 24-years-old.

"They are young people who have no education, who are unemployed and not in any training. We are providing qualifications in teamwork, employability and community skills.

"You are dealing with a different kind of person. They would have completely different opportunities than me or you. They have completely different backgrounds, perhaps with personal issues. You are dealing with them accordingly, sometimes on an individual basis."

In order to be considered for referee duty, she had to come through a Referee's Academy that was established by the Ulster Council. The group is subject to regular fitness tests and Maggie had to meet the fitness requirements in order to be put up for fixtures.

She attends collective training with referees, the occasional morning run and does gym sessions when they can be fitted in. She also has club training to accommodate when the world stops spinning.

Outside of the GAA world, she enjoys reading sports autobiographies. Her reasoning tells us plenty about her inner drive.

"I like learning about what people in other sports are doing, the challenges they face in their own careers, what sport means to them," she said.

"This is going to go against the grain I suppose, but I am a Liverpool fan. I am currently reading Steven Gerrard's autobiography, I got it for Christmas. I've only read a couple of chapters so far, I need to get more time."

Since Wednesday night, there has been a lot of talk of breaking down barriers and perceptions of what female involvement should be at the top level. It was quite the coincidence that the game was played in Garvaghey, where the first ever female county Chairperson, Roisín Jordan, was there to congratulate Maggie.

However, Maggie shies away from such talk and explains her philosophy when it comes to meeting challenges.

"I just love sport, I love being involved from different aspects; from a player's perspective, I have been involved in coaching and now I am involved in refereeing," she added. "I just enjoy all the challenges that I face. I love being involved and taking the opportunities that I have been given, it's as simple as that."

Tomorrow, she will once again get the black uniform on, wire in an earpiece and act as linesperson in Newry at the Down v Fermanagh game.

The game goes on. So does Maggie's love for it.

Belfast Telegraph

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