Michelle O’Neill is the first Irish female to ever referee a World Cup soccer game.
Irish woman Michelle O’Neill served as an assistant referee during Sunday’s final match of the FIFA Women’s World Cup that saw the US beat the Netherlands 2-0.
Read More: WATCH: New US Women's Soccer promo features Irish dancer, Hozier
A native of Co Wexford, O'Neill is the first Irish female and second Irish person ever to officiate at World Cup soccer matches. (In 1998, Eddie Foley became the first Irish person to officiate a World Cup.)
Irish official Michelle O'Neill (centre), who was an assistant referee for the decider receives her medal at the end of the World Cup final pic.twitter.com/vRpzCLvqkm— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) July 7, 2019
After retiring from playing about ten years ago, O'Neill now officiates in the SSE Airtricity League and the So Hotels Women's National League. She also volunteers with Ireland's Special Olympics, who congratulated the "role model" on her World Cup performance:
What an inspriation to see SO Ireland volunteer Michelle O'Neill officiate as Assistant Referee at the @FIFAWWC final.
Michelle volunteered as a referee at the 2018 Ireland Games
Such a great role model. Well done Michelle@SpecOlympicsEU @20x20_ie #cantseecantbe pic.twitter.com/ebyUaNLt4d— Special Olympics Irl (@SOIreland) July 8, 2019
Read More: Kelley O'Hara flying the Irish flag at the Women's World Cup
Returning to the FIFA Women's World Cup
Before heading to France this year to join the 47 other assistant referees for the tournament, O’Neill told FAI TV: "It's a huge honor to be representing Ireland. It's so exciting.”
This year was the second time that O'Neill officiated at a World Cup; in 2015 she was an assistant referee at the tournament in Canada.
"To get one World Cup, but to come back and get a second, and to be more mature if you want to say. I'm a lot more relaxed, I know the work I've done over the last four years knowing that I need to be extra strong, extra fit, extra fast.”
"Putting that into place four years ago and then getting the opportunities to have so much high-quality matches here in Ireland - that's a huge boost for me. Four years ago there were 300 of us on the list for this tournament, and that's when the campaign started."
Read More: WATCH: Colin Farrell starred in this FIFA World Cup advert for RTE over 20 years ago
However, the honor became all the more special for O'Neill when it was revealed on Friday that she had been selected from the group of assistant referees to officiate at the final match.
“We found out on Friday," O'Neill said while speaking to Tony O'Donoghue on RTE the day after the final. "I closed my Facebook page, closed Instagram, closed all social media and after the two hours I called home and I arranged my family to come; it was just extra special.”
Great to meet Irish ref Michelle O’Neill the morning after her gold medal 磊performance at #WWCFINAL USA captain @mPinoe asked her in tunnel before La Grande Finale was she ready for this? Her reply ...— Tony O'Donoghue (@Corktod) July 8, 2019
“ I was born ready” @RTEsport @FAIreland @RuthyFahy @RTEmcbennettd pic.twitter.com/8ftMIqyAaW
Read More: Irishman’s desperate appeal to God to make England lose in World Cup
O’Neill also recalled a special moment between her and US Women’s National Team captain Megan Rapinoe before entering the field for the final match. As O’Neill shook Rapinoe’s hand, as she does with every team’s captain, O’Neill said Rapinoe asked her “Well, are you ready?”
“I was born ready,” the Irish woman says she told Rapinoe.
O’Neill said she is delighted with the coverage the women’s World Cup received: “I mean in four years, the development of football the profile of football, it’s just coming up and up and up. I’m extremely happy with the coverage.”
Did you watch the FIFA Women's World Cup? Let us know in the comments!