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Abuse of referees should not be accepted but is 'part and parcel of our game'

Maggie Farrelly is an experienced inter-county referee.

Maggie Farrelly pictured in Croke Park.
Maggie Farrelly pictured in Croke Park.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

EXPERIENCED INTER-COUNTY referee Maggie Farrelly says that abuse of match officials should not be tolerated but that it is also “part and parcel” of Gaelic Games.

Farrelly is in the midst of a historic career as a match official, having achieved a number of milestones in recent times. In 2016, she became the first female referee to oversee a match in a men’s inter-county competition after she took charge of the McKenna Cup clash between Fermanagh and St Mary’s.

She also created history last year as she became the first female to officiate for a men’s county final in the decider in Cavan. Earlier this year, Farrelly was appointed to take charge of the Division 4 fixture between Leitrim and London.

The Cavan native says that she believes effective communication with players is an essential part of her job — particularly when explaining her reasons for making decisions during games — but that doesn’t need to justify every call.

“To be fair, if you haven’t got abuse, there’s something wrong,” she replies when asked about the mistreatment of referees in GAA.

“It’s part and parcel of our game. It’s nearly the expected norm to be abused in some way but it’s being able to deal with that, being resilient and confident and being able to reflect back on things you could have done differently. You learn from the positives and you also learn from the areas of improvement. At the end of the day, you only have a second or two to see something, to decide on what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it.”

Farrelly continued by saying that abuse should not exist in the game but that it is an unavoidable ill of sport.

“Of course not but that’s what accepted, nearly from the bottom up.

“But it’s not just in Gaelic games. It’s across the board in a lot of sports, and not just in Ireland and across the world. Research would suggest it is an accepted norm across the world.

“When you’re going to referee a game you shouldn’t be subjected to abuse. If that happens, it should be dealt with accordingly.

“We have a rulebook there to guide us and we have a committee in charge to deal with all of those issues. But unless it’s reported it can’t be dealt with.”

Remarking on her recent run of achievements in refereeing, Farrelly says that it’s “extremely satisfying” to reach those points in her career, and adds that those games are “opportunities I have been preparing for and wanting to get.”

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She says that she doesn’t consider herself to be a role model but understands that she carries a responsibility to create pathways for younger referees to follow her example. 

“You’re setting the scene for others to follow, and as we can recall, the 20×20 campaign was built on being visual. If my story creates an opportunity for somebody else to follow, sure why not?

“It’s a great opportunity. The GAA and Supervalu have been very supportive of that idea in terms of inclusivity and having a diverse range of people playing our games and being part of the community at home and ambassador level.”

Maggie Farrelly was speaking at the launch of SuperValu’s #CommunityIncludesEveryone campaign. Now in their thirteenth year of supporting the GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, SuperValu is calling on each and every member of GAA communities across the country to do what they can to make their community more diverse and inclusive.

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