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'I was born ready' - Dream day for Wexford's O'Neill after World Cup gold and meeting Rapinoe

Michelle O’Neill lined out as an assistant referee in yesterday’s World Cup final in Lyon.

Ireland's Michelle O'Neill in the tunnel ahead of yesterday's World Cup final.
Ireland's Michelle O'Neill in the tunnel ahead of yesterday's World Cup final.

WEXFORD REFEREE MICHELLE O’Neill ensured there was an Irish flavour to the 2019 World Cup final in Lyon, in which USA beat the Netherlands 2-0 yesterday.

O’Neill had already officiated a number of games at the tournament, including the quarter-final between Germany and Sweden, and earned the opportunity to feature as assistant referee in the biggest game in women’s football.

The 40-year-old is an experienced official at League of Ireland and Women’s National League [WNL] level, and also works in other Uefa and Fifa-affiliated competitions, but yesterday’s clash on the world’s biggest stage was undoubtedly the most high-profile game she has ever been involved in.

And the morning after the night before, she was evidently still on cloud nine today speaking to RTÉ’s Tony O’Donoghue.

“I have no words to describe… it’s absolutely amazing,” O’Neill grinned.

She went on to tell a lovely story about her pre-match encounter in the tunnel with USA co-captain Megan Rapinoe. 

“I was just doing my last check before we go out to the pitch,” she explained. “I turned around and shook her hand like every captain — I shake every captain’s hand.

“She looked at me and said, ‘Well, are you ready?’ I go, ‘Hey, I was born ready!’ She just gave a little smile and I was like, ‘Yeah, she knows I’m here now’.

One of 48 assistants at the tournament, the fitness instructor from Enniscorthy found out she landed the coveted gig for La Grande Finale on Friday. 

michelle O'Neill (centre) receiving her medal after the 2019 World Cup final.

And from there, it was all focus on Sunday at the job at hand.

“We found out on Friday. I closed all my Facebook, Instagram, all social media. After the two hours I called home and arranged for my family to come. It was just extra special.

O’Neill, who also officiated at the 2015 World Cup in Canada, added: “I mean in four years, the development of football and profile of football is coming up and up and up. I’m extremely happy with the coverage.”

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Emma Duffy

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