Rugby referee Joy Neville receiving the Limerick Person of the Month award from Pat Reddan, general manager of the Clayton Hotel with Mary O'Riordan, Southern and Eugene Phelan, editor Limerick Leader
A RUGBY star who is now making history in the world of refereeing has been named the Limerick Person of the Month.
Joy Neville, a native of North Circular Road, became the first woman in history to be named referee of the year at the World Rugby Awards in Monte Carlo.
A veteran of 70 caps for Ireland, Joy took charge of the Women’s Rugby World Cup final in Belfast in August and refereed her first men’s international in October.
“I’m a very proud Limerick woman and to get an award and be named the Limerick Person of the Month is obviously a great honour. I have just the place for that lovely piece of crystal in the dining room,” smiled the 34-year-old at the award presentation at Limerick’s Clayton Hotel.
Joy, who attended the World Rugby Awards dinner in Monaco on November 26 with her wife Simona, had known about a month prior that she had won an award but didn’t know exactly what she had won.
“I didn’t get clarification on whether I had won the World Rugby Referee in the female or male category but as it happens it was for everything,” she smiled.
“I suppose I was naive in terms of the magnitude of the award as I was blown away by the messages and support I received. The phone didn’t stop.”
Joy didn’t have time to take stock of what she had achieved as she had to go to Dubai the following day for a week due to work commitments.
“I didn’t get to celebrate properly or I didn’t realise the hype until I got home and I was extremely embarrassed when I got home - I was mortified. I now realise I don’t ever want a surprise birthday party. But, at the same time, I was delighted and blown away by the efforts of family and friends. I have always had wonderful support from friends and family.”
A former student of Salesians primary and secondary school, Joy started playing rugby at 17 and retired at the age of 30.
She started refereeing three and a half years ago.
“In a way I suppose I have been provided with opportunities quite soon in my career. It’s been a case of sink or swim really and, thankfully, I’ve done what I’ve needed to do in order to progress but I’ve learned an awful lot in a short period of time as well.”
Being a trailblazer in the world of rugby is something she clearly enjoys and while the majority of the reaction to her, in her role as referee, has been overwhelmingly positive, there has been a small amount of negative comments.
“At the start you would have a few older gentlemen who would have never have seen a female in the middle and, for me, it’s about educating people and opening their awareness to the fact that it doesn’t make a difference who is in the middle - it’s just about the job being done.
“That has always been my focus - I didn’t get down about any scenarios that I had come across - I don’t really come across that anymore, thankfully. And I don’t get defensive - you don’t get anywhere getting defensive. For me, it’s about educating them to the fact that a woman can do just as good a job as any man, really.”
This Friday evening, Joy will continue her history-making trajectory when she becomes the first woman to referee a top-level European club match when she takes charge of the Challenge Cup clash between Bordeaux-Bègles and Russia’s Enisei-STM in Bordeaux.
“For the next couple of days I need to focus on that game,” she explains.
“I need to go away and have a look at past games and see if there are any trends we need to be aware of in order to be a step ahead and not be surprised by anything that happens, and obviously, eat well in the next couple of days to be in the best shape that you possibly can be in - mentally and physically.”
Joy, who now resides on O’Connell Avenue in the city, feels that her fitness as a referee is “far superior” as to when she was a player.
“It’s different training. As a player (Joy played in the No 8 position) it was more strength and conditioning whereas this is more aerobic-based.
“As a referee it’s all about speed. I’m actually much more preferring this type of conditioning. When I was playing I was in the mid-80s in terms of kgs but I’m now down in the late 60s so I’ve lost an awful lot of muscle and I’m much happier in the training I’m doing.”
Her refereeing career takes her abroad almost every weekend, but Joy ensures that when she is at home, she gets to spend quality time with Simona, her family and friends.
“I’m abroad every weekend, every weekend,” she emphasises. “I could be away for two to two and a half weeks and I come home for two days and I’m gone again. I wouldn’t be here only for my family and obviously Simona. It’s a huge commitment. I’m not made feel guilty because I have such wonderful support at home. We both know what we are trying to achieve and that makes my life a lot easier. When I’m at home, we make the most of it because it’s important.”
Joy is now encouraging young men and women to follow in her footsteps and get involved in refereeing.
“There are lots of opportunities for any males or females who would like to take up the whistle. A meeting takes place every Tuesday in the Castletroy Park. There is a great social element and a lot of opportunities to progress and to see the world, as I am doing now. At the end of the day, I now have a career and I am very thankful for that,” says Joy who was previously rugby development officer in LIT.
And what is her career ambition for the future?
“I would love to referee a PRO 14 game and to be involved in the men’s Six Nations in either capacity - either on the line or in the middle. Obviously, the biggest goal would be to be on the line for a men’s Six Nations game and whether that’s this year, or two, three or four years down the line, we all need our goals and at the moment, that’s mine.”
Go to www.mar.ie for further information on the refereeing meetings in the Castletroy Park hotel.