By Declan Rooney
Refereeing her first TG4 All-Ireland Final, a maiden Ulster Senior Final and being voted in as Donegal LGFA’s new chairperson made for a busy winter for Siobhan Coyle, but she aims to top it all in 2021.
Up and coming referee Coyle (32), took charge of the TG4 All-Ireland Junior Final between Fermanagh and Wicklow in December, and since then her attention has switched back to her day job, where she teaches third and fourth classes at Scoil Mhuire, Gleneely.
Like Coyle, her students are pining for a return to the classrooms, while she is also waiting anxiously to put her county board plans in action, when a return to Gaelic Games activities is permitted.
“I am looking forward to getting back. I find it difficult, sitting at a laptop working inside. I’m not a person who likes that all day. I’d rather be in and mixing with the kids and talking to them, that’s what I want. As teachers, that’s what we enjoy,” said Coyle, a Gaeil Fhánada club member.
“I see with my kids in school, they are ten and 11-year-olds…I go on to meet them online and their biggest thing is just to see their friends, to speak to their friends. We give them a few minutes where we just talk. They are missing each other.
“Some kids found it very difficult this week. The junior classes are going back and they all want to get back into school. Unfortunately they are stuck at home still doing their work. We all would rather seeing it end at this stage, just for the children.
“They are missing getting to play and having a kickabout with their friends. Some of them are sitting inside all day; they need to get out into the fresh air.
“From a Donegal point of view, clubs don’t know where they stand either, they don’t know if they are going to be able to register players or get players in. We don’t want to lose players and that’s the biggest issue now with young ones.
“They aren’t playing and they have no training to go to. We may end up losing players and we really don’t want that – especially in their teenage years.”
After spending five years as Donegal LGFA secretary, a couple as a club delegate and getting a taste for Ulster Council work, Coyle was asked to run for the Chairperson position in 2020 and she was elected to the roll.
Her intention is to continue her development as a referee in 2021 too, and she has set a number of goals for herself, including stepping up through the grades.
“I think if I didn’t set goals for myself I wouldn’t succeed. You need to set goals to keep pushing yourself forward.”
“I was hoping at the start of last year to referee some Division 2 games, but before Covid came I ended up doing my first Division 1 league game, which for me exceed my personal goal for the league. That was Mayo against Waterford on an absolutely horrible day in Swinford. There was hailstorms and everything. When we were driving down we were afraid we’d have to call it off.
“What happened towards the end of the year was just unbelievable for me. I couldn’t have asked for a greater few months to end the year. I ended up refereeing four major finals in the winter which was unbelievable.
“Of course, over the next couple of years, I’d love to get to another All-Ireland, possibly at Intermediate or Senior level. I’d love to do a few more Division 1 games. Getting chances to referee those Senior counties is just a different standard.”
At the minute, several hundred county players around the country are trying to improve their fitness levels as they await a return to collective training, and Coyle says the same is happening for referees. While they are somewhat accustomed to training on their own, not having a target to work towards has proven very difficult in the last few weeks, she says.
“Since Christmas it has been difficult. In this lockdown, motivation has been hard to keep going.
“When there are no games to look forward to, and you don’t have a set date, that’s difficult to try and motivate yourself to keep at it. Last summer, once we got the comeback date, we had something to aim for and you were looking forward to that.
“Thankfully, the national and Ulster associations have been giving us programmes and are trying to keep us motivated. Ulster have set up a pilates class once a week for the referees, even that is great. It gives us the chance to meet each other online and do a workout together. It’s keeping us going.”
As well as all her achievements with the LGFA, Coyle is a well-respected referee in the men’s game in Donegal. While she refereed the Ladies Senior County Final in 2020, she took charge of the men’s Intermediate decider too.
And Coyle is pleased to confirm that she has never encountered any trouble on the field just because she’s a female referee.
“I find the men’s game great. I don’t know if it’s because I’m female, but they are very respectful to me on the pitch. I have never had any issues at all with the men’s game.
“If I go to a new club, you know that people are looking at you when you go out, wondering who this woman is coming on to the pitch. People are not used to seeing it, but after a game or two, that disappears. I might have changed their opinion if I have a good game. We can all do it, it doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman in the middle of the pitch.
“Whether it’s the ladies or men’s game, I think the earlier you start, the more experience you can get. Especially at underage, get as much experience as you can. With the likes of Go Games you don’t want to be blowing the whistle every few seconds, so you have to let the game go and try and teach them as they’re going along.
“It’s all about just getting started. You can talk as much as you want about referring and learn all the rules, but until you are actually out on the pitch and doing it, you can’t compare it to anything else.”