Maggie Farrelly making history but taking it all in stride

The first female to referee a men’s senior intercounty match expects no special treatment

Common sense is a useful trait not always immediately apparent in every referee, but it's a characteristic Maggie Farrelly seems to have in abundance and she applies it to life on and off the pitch.

In brushing off the significance of her historic appointment as the first female to referee a men’s senior intercounty GAA match on Wednesday night, she made one thing clear. This girl is no drama queen.

Getting on with the job with the minimum of fuss is her modus operandi and, slightly bemused by the attention after taking charge of the Dr McKenna Cup fixture between Fermanagh and St Mary's, she only agreed to media requests after being encouraged to do so by the Ulster Council.

‘The opportunity’

“I’m just grateful for the opportunities that I’m given,” she says. “I’m not trying to break down barriers or anything like that.”


Insistent that gender has neither been a hindrance or a help, anything the Cavan lady has achieved up to this point she has earned.

“I suppose it goes to show that the GAA is moving with the times and they are very much into integration.

“We see women more and more involved in different roles and different capacities now, and that’s great to see. But I’m no different from any other referee, apart from gender obviously.

“The lads that were in the same (Ulster Council) academy as me from 2011 to 2013 have went out and refereed their first game as well, and people probably wouldn’t have realised that.”

Asked by her club, Laragh United, to make up the numbers due to a shortage of referees in 2008, Farrelly never dreamt it would set her on the path of history-maker.

She has been blazing a trail for women in the GAA for a while now, refereeing an Ulster minor championship match last year and operating as fourth official at the Kerry v Dublin league opener in Croke Park almost 12 months ago.

And she stayed cool under the spotlight in Garvaghey, Tyrone's centre of excellence, on Wednesday night just making it another day at the office, showing four yellow cards and one red to St Mary's full forward Matthew Fitzpatrick.

There was no dissension, but even if there was or is in future as matches grow in importance, she comes across as a woman who can handle it.

“I’m not a person who dwells on things. You probably need to smile and nod a lot of the time, you wouldn’t want to take things to heart.

“You are out there refereeing for 70 odd minutes and it could be the best 70 minutes of your life or the worse 70 minutes and you just have to deal with it.

“As soon as you cross that white line you are the referee and when you cross that white line again after the 70 minutes you are just Maggie Farrelly, you are just yourself. You can’t think otherwise I suppose.”

Logical step

Without wanting to be fast-tracked or left behind, she knows that taking charge of an

Allianz Football League

game is the next logical step.

Ulster Council president Martin McAviney hopes it will happen within the next two or three years, though stressing it’s important that “no-one rushes Maggie or the system”.

Farrelly herself knows it will come around when the time is right.

“Since 2013 I have been on the national support panel so in that capacity I get to officiate in the National League and other competitions, but the next progression I suppose would be to referee in the National League.

“That’s another step on the pathway.

“Appointments are always made on merit so you just have to be patient and wait your turn as such, to be given your chance to officiate.”