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'I have to pinch myself' - Irish referee O'Neill set to make more history at Olympic Games

Michelle O’Neill will become the first Irish referee to officiate at the Games.

Source: FAI TV/YouTube

WEXFORD’S MICHELLE O’NEILL is set to make more history as she becomes the first Irish referee to officiate at the Olympic Games this summer.

O’Neill jets off to Tokyo on Wednesday, as one of 99 match officials from 51 countries chosen by Fifa for the men’s and women’s Olympic football tournaments.

An assistant referee for the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup final between USA and the Netherlands in Lyon, France, O’Neill has enjoyed a storied officiating career so far.

Having plied her trade in the League of Ireland for the past 10 seasons, she has made history on the world stage with that World Cup final refereeing team of late: In August 2019, they oversaw the Uefa Super Cup final between Liverpool and Chelsea (O’Neill was assistant referee on that occasion), while they also combined for a huge England v Germany international friendly at Wembley Stadium.

Next stop is Tokyo, and her next chapter of history will be made at the Olympic Games.

Joining FAI Referee Executive Rob Hennessy at FAI Headquarters ahead of her departure for Japan, O’Neill shared her joy.

“I am absolutely over the moon, thrilled to bits,” she told FAI TV. “It is such an honour for me to represent Ireland out in Tokyo this year at the Olympics Games.

Even saying that in the one sentence, I still have to pinch myself. What an honour to be representing Irish referees and Irish football in Japan.

“The World Cup final is the biggest honour that you can get as a referee but the Olympics tournament is something extra special. To be selected as a referee by Fifa for the Olympic Games, you have to perform well, pass all the tests and training so I am so honoured to be going to Tokyo.”

“There’s so many opportunities and doors opened,” she later added, “and to be able to push through them and push them down… it feels weird to be the first for everything but someone has to do it.

“I say to myself, ‘If no one else is going to do it, I can do it’. That’s the attitude I have — keep going.

It’s a sense of, ‘Let me push through more barriers, break down more barriers for women in sport, and open the eyes of spectators to show that we’re doing the job just as well.”

Congratulating O’Neill on her appointment, FAI Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Hill said:

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“On behalf of the Association and everyone involved with Irish football, I want to wish Michelle all the best at the Olympic Games in Japan when I know she will again do our game and her country proud.

Michelle has been a trailblazer for Irish refereeing and this latest honour, two years after she officiated at the Fifa Women’s World Cup final in France, is no more than she deserves.”

“Michelle is an inspiration not just for every young girl in Ireland but for everyone involved in our sport as well,” FAI President Gerry McAnaney added.

“She has set the standard for Irish match officials with Fifa and Uefa and I am delighted for her that she is about to add the Olympic Games to her list of achievements.”

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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