Female referee makes Britain GAA hurling history

Ciara Mannion with the captains of Ceann Creige and Yorkshire Emeralds. Photo: Brian Harold

By Damian Dolan

Fullen Gaels camogie player and referee Ciara Mannion is believed to have made Britain GAA history on Saturday, by becoming the first female to referee a senior men’s hurling championship match.

The 25-year-old from Caltra, Co Galway, took charge of the Lancashire SHC semi-final between Glasgow’s Ceann Creige and Yorkshire Emeralds of Leeds at Beeston, after answering an eleventh-hour plea for help from the Lancashire county board.

With all efforts to find a referee exhausted the tie was at risk of being called off, until Ciara agreed to step into the breach.

More accustomed to refereeing camogie matches, it was the first game of hurling she’d ever taken charge of.

“It was grand,” Ciara told the Irish World. “They were like ‘this is weird’, but also that it was amazing to have a female referee.

“For a while at the beginning I think they thought ‘she’s just going to stand there in the middle of the pitch – she has no clue’.

“But they soon began to realise, ‘oh Jesus, she actually knows what she’s doing’.”

She added: “The management of Ceann Creige and Yorkshire Emeralds both said, ‘we’ll definitely be seeing more of you – it’s great to have a female referee and to have the option there if needed’.”

Ciara’s afternoon also took an unexpected turn when Emeralds’ player – and Lancashire county hurler – Danny Connolly suffered chest pains during the game. While no emergency services were required in the end, Ciara took command of the situation.

Ciara in action for Fullen Gaels Camogie Club. Photo: Sheila Fernandes

Ciara had received a phone call on Thursday from the Lancashire board’s James Lahiff, who is also involved with Fullen Gaels, enquiring whether she would consider refereeing the game.

“They were like ‘they’re badly stuck, they’ve no referee’. I said ‘can no one else do it?’,” said Ciara.

“They said ‘if they don’t find someone by Friday evening will you do it?’ I said fine, I’d never see anyone stuck.”

She added: “I’ve followed our hurling team at home since a young age and gone to Galway county games, and watched games every Saturday and Sunday, and you get used to the rules. The rules are the same [as camogie].”

On the possibility of having made history by becoming the first female to take charge of a hurling championship fixture in Britain, Ciara said: “It’s good to know you can turn to ladies’ or men’s and use what you’ve learnt in either codes, and know you’re going to be respected by both sides.”

Her weekend didn’t end there, however.

Twenty-four hours later she was in Birmingham to help Fullen Gaels to a Round 2 Britain Camogie senior championship victory over London’s Thomas McCurtains.

She previously featured for Fullen in the delayed 2020 senior final at Pairc na hEireann in Birmingham – a game delayed until May 2021 due to the pandemic.

Ciara started refereeing camogie when she was 14 at her hometown club in Galway, Ahascragh Caltra, and has been doing it ever since.

She moved to Manchester two years ago to do her Masters at Manchester Metropolitan University. After completing her studies, she decided to remain in the city.

She continued her refereeing in Manchester, and this year is referee’s co-ordinator for Camogie Britain.

Ceann Creige came out on top against Yorkshire Emeralds to set up a Lancashire senior hurling championship final with Ciara’s club Fullen Gaels.