Helen O'Reilly has become the Irish Rugby Football Union first top-level female referee in a move that could eventually see her officiate in Guinness Pro12 and European Champions Cup action.

The IRFU has made O'Reilly the first female appointment to its National Referee Panel.

The Women's Rugby World Cup official has been hailed as one of the "top female referees in the world", and will now step up to take charge at Ulster Bank League matches.

"Helen's appointment is based solely on merit but as the first female referee to make the panel she must be congratulated," said IRFU referee development director Owen Doyle.

"Her hard work, dedication and strong refereeing performances have propelled her into the top handful of female referees in the world and into the national panel here in Ireland."

Former Ashbourne RFC and St Mary's RFC player O'Reilly has been refereeing for less than four years.

After completing women's Six Nations duties, O'Reilly was one of just two female Northern Hemisphere referees chosen for the summer's Women's Rugby World Cup held in France.