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Maggie won't be fazed by moment of history

By Declan Bogue

History will be made at Brewster Park, Enniskillen on January 3 when the first ever female referee takes charge of a senior inter-county match.

The meeting of Fermanagh and St Mary's in their Group B clash in the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup might usually only attract the interest of those within the Erne County and the teaching college.

But given that Cavan whistler Maggie Farrelly will be throwing the ball in, the match is set to become a perennial GAA quiz question for years to come.

Brian Crowe, the Cavan referee who officiated the 2006 All-Ireland final when Kerry beat Mayo, told the Belfast Telegraph that there is much pride within the Breffni County as Farrelly breaks the mould.

He also made an interesting point about players granting more respect than they might to a male referee. He said: "It's not a job that everybody wants to take on. I have a tendency to believe that, at times, she gets more respect from players than what some male counterparts get when they are officiating.

"I have never heard of any abuse hurled at her - good, bad or indifferent.

"In fairness, she has to make the big calls, the big judgment calls, and she is not afraid to make them."

Crowe, who is a provincial and national referee's advisor, said that Laragh United clubperson Farrelly has had plenty of experience within her own county of taking charge of important senior matches.

He continued: "In fairness, she has been appointed to quarter-finals and semi-finals of the senior Championship, along with a number of other senior games in the All-County League. So it wouldn't be anything new to her."

Brewster Park is a recurring theme with Farrelly's refereeing landmarks.

In 2012, she was lineswoman for an Ulster senior club Championship tie between St Gall's and Tempo Maguires at the ground.

Last year she became the first female referee to take charge of an inter-county game when she was in the middle for the Ulster minor Championship tie between Fermanagh and Antrim at the same venue.

Despite only taking up refereeing in 2008, she joined the Ulster GAA Referee Academy in 2011. Her first final came the following year, when she refereed the Cavan All-County League decider.

In 2014, she officiated the county Under-21 final and the All-Ireland Ladies' senior final, and was named as the Ulster GAA Referee of the Year to top off a stellar year.

Her handling of the Ulster minor game last year was a major breakthrough and brought praise from Ulster Council President Martin McAviney.

He said after the game: "I thought she refereed very well, but I was far more interested to see what kind of reaction she would get from the players.

"This was the first time these lads would have played a game refereed by a woman and I was interested to see if they would try and take advantage of that situation."

He hinted at that time that further progress was on the cards for Farrelly, who has also played club football in Donegal while working in Letterkenny for Glenfin.

"(The minor game) won't be the last one she does, that is for sure," said McAviney.

While the convention booklets of practically every county will contain appeals from secretaries for clubs to source more referees, the progress of Farrelly is immensely encouraging and will inspire other females to follow in her footsteps.

Crowe believes that established refereeing career pathways have allowed developments of this kind to flourish.

"The way the Association is running matters, anybody who wants to make it onto the inter-county scene has never been better catered for," he added.

"The structures that are in place for referees, once they do well within their own county, you are put in.

"In fairness to the Ulster Council, they have a referee's academy and they are the first to introduce this within the Association.

"This has brought a lot of referees, including Maggie, along big time.

"The training available to them has helped them all through the seminars."

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