The European County Board was formed in November 1999 and ratified at the GAA Congress in April 2000. This structure was established to cater for Gaelic football at the time but the Irish ladies living in Paris made sure they would not be left out. They got a team together whenever there was a tournament and the ladies within the Brussels club did the same. Shortly afterwards Luxembourg followed suit when Emma Ni Dhomnaill moved from Paris to Luxembourg in 2001 and they rapidly became the leading team in Europe over the next few years.
This is the third European Ladies team to be represented at the International Tournament in Dublin. At the 2000 International Tournament, the team was composed mostly of ladies from the Brussels team – a team of many nationalities. Some players from Paris Gaels including Anne Donnelly who had just become the newly elected secretary to the first GAA European County Board also competed in 2000.
In 2002, Europe fielded a very different team as by then Luxembourg had a very strong group of young ladies playing in all the European tournaments. At this time Luxembourg were gradually displacing Brussels as the dominant force in European ladies football. A large percentage of the 2002 team were also from the Breton Club, Rennes, in France. The European Championship is played over ten rounds, from March to October on a one day ‘blitz’ type basis, in cities across Europe. Teams are nine a side and matches replayed on a reduced pitch. Each one lasts 15 minutes with 4/5 matches being played by each team over the course of the day with the top two teams meeting again in a final. Points are allocated to every team that competes and each club’s best six performances count towards the overall championship.
In recent years, Luxembourg Gaelic Sports Club have won the championship for 3 consecutive years. Paris Gaels girls nearly caught them last year, actually winning the grand finale in The Hague in October, but had not secured sufficient points during the year to win the overall title.
This year other clubs have improved remarkably including the Netherlands ladies team (The Hague/Amsterdam clubs) who with Paris Gaels re the only real contenders for the Gaelic Gear 2005. European Championship. Unfortunately, Luxembourg have lost many fine players during the season. Guernsey Gaels, Rennes, Barcelona, Munich Colmcilles, Vienna and Budapest may not attend enough rounds to be in with a chance of winning, because of the distances involved and expense of travelling, but they all have very strong players who have played in some rounds of the 2005 championship. In the Paris tournament, held the weekend before last, a record 8 teams competed.
All of the clubs have many players who re non-Irish and have taken to the sport like ‘ducks to water’. Apart from Europe, players from America, Asia and Africa participate. Unfortunately every month sees clubs lose players who return to Ireland or head off to new challenges in other countries. We continually have to recruit new players, which poses a major challenge and militates against consistency, however, standards are improving all the time and we are lucky to have a lot of support from the men’s teams.
The 2005 squad consists of 20 players drawn from Paris Gaels (5); Amsterdam and Luxembourg 4 each); The Hague (3); Guernsey Gaels (2) and one each from Barcelona Gaelettes and Europe’s newest club, Maastricht Gaels.
The team is managed by Mary Gavin from The Hague, a native of Co Galway who has been living in The Netherlands for many years and has been to the fore in the development of the ladies game across Europe. The team coach is former Limerick and UCC star Denis Reidy, who has numerous County and Provincial medals at club, university and inter-county levels in hurling and football and was part of the Irish International Rules Team in 2002.
Mary and Denis are assisted by two mentors, and a host of other people in the background who cannot travel to Dublin. The two mentors are Andrew Coffey from Paris Gaels, one of the top players on the European scene and formerly of Kilmacud Crokes in Dublin and Tony Bass, formerly with Cuala in Dublin, and one of the founders of Maastricht Gaels, who has many years experience in coaching and administration in Ireland at County and Provincial level.
Just two players in the squad will be playing in their third international tournament. Emma Ni Dhomnaill Luxembourg), our captain this year was part of the 2002 European Ladies team whilst prominent amongst our players in 2000 was Brussels based Jennifer Weber (The Hague), a Swedish national who returned to play in the 2002 Tournament as she had enjoyed the first event so much. Apart from Jennifer, this year’s squad also includes players from the UK, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy and Nigeria.
The ladies game in Europe really is in its infancy and there are probably less than 150 players in total spread across Europe. Entering a team in a tournament such as this is very important for morale and it will be a new experience for most of the squad to play 15 a side on full size pitches. We have been training every few weekends over the past couple of months and we hope to do Europe and improve on previous performances in Dublin.
1 Jennifer Weber The Hague
2 Septima McArdle Amsterdam
3 Kate Gleeson Paris Gaels
4 Deborah Maher Luxembourg
5 Stefania Michielis Paris Gaels
6 Helan Hagan Amsterdam
7 Eileen Jennings Paris Gaels
8 Catherine Hennessy Guernsey
9 Andrea O’Brien Amsterdam
10 Miriam Galisteo Manzanares Barcelona Gaelettes
11 Emma Ni Dhonaill Luxembourg
12 Maria Rooney Guernsey
13 Marian Wallace Amsterdam
14 Barbara Wynne The Hague
15 Geerte Beijer Maastricht
16 Susan Kavanagh Luxembourg
17 Joyce Oladipo Luxembourg
18 Sunniva Smith The Hague
19 Laura Bruton Paris Gaels
20 Marie Sheehan The Hague
21 Jessica Cooke Paris Gaels
Inaugural European League
Set to go ahead in 2002
Brussels is currently leading the development of ladies football in mainland Europe, arranging matches and promoting Ladies football amongst the other European Clubs. A number of women from Paris, The Hague and Luxembourg have joined the Brussels women in recent matches.
Previous St Patrick’s Days events have been good catalysts for Gaelic activity in Europe. In 1999, Brussels pioneered the introduction of under age Gaelic football to the continent and their young boys and girls went on to play football all summer and autumn including performing for GAA President Joe McDonagh in Luxembourg in May and playing against a Dublin Primary schools selection in July. Their adults also got in on the act playing in tournaments as well as staging their own and being founder members of the European GAA Board at the Marriott Hotel in Amsterdam in November. The sentiments of the founding members being summed up in their catch-cry from Hayes Hotel to the Marriott, 115 short years!
In 2000 at the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Overijse, ladies football was officially introduced to Europe for the first time. The impetus came from former Dublin Club Robert Emmet’s stalwart, Patricia Hickey, who works in the Irish Embassy in Brussels. Patricia really enjoyed the February 2000 visit of the Sam Maguire Cup, brought by Meath’s Tommy Dowd and Enda McManus and their wives to help promote the GAA in Brussels. No sooner had The Sam gone home than Patricia gathered together 17 of her sports playing girlfriends and coached them in the playing of Gaelic football for the next few Thursday nights. Their first public appearance was at the Brussels GAA event on Sunday 19th March and their nine a side game proved to be a great success with both players and spectators. Patricia’s panel could justifiably be described as an ‘International Brigade’. Only 3 were Irish, the majority were Belgian and there were also players from Canada, Denmark, Peru and Sweden. Life the underage players the previous year, all but one or two of them had never played Gaelic football before but – again, like the kids – picked it up quickly and became eager to continue playing the ‘cool, new game’ through the summer.
Following on from the St Patrick’s Day competition, the Brussels ladies teams took part in a GAA tournament in Luxembourg at the end of May that year under the guidance of player-manager Patricia Hickey.
A number of girls from Paris, The Hague and Luxembourg joined in, to form a ‘Rest of Europe’ team and they played out a draw in their match with each side scoring 0-4. The Brussels panel consisting of : Sonja Dockx, Patricia Willaert, Maja Van Develde, Karina de Boeure, Hille Hallans, and Els Brouwers (Belguim), Patricia Hickey, Mary Shovelin, Grace Barrett, Janice McHugh, Niamh Matthews (Ireland), Lydia Bongartz and Nadia Von Bassewitz (Germany), Shanti Aranha and Cheryl Lee (Canada), Patricia Ngo Ndong (Cameroon), Lisa Libo (Denmark), Jennifer Weber (Sweden) and Jaana Metalla (Finland).
Indeed the girls roped in even more Belgian girls and had further matches at the Brussels tournament in July and The Hague tournament in early September. All of the matches assisted in the preparation for their highlight of the year in late September, when 11 of the Brussels women together with a few others from Jersey, represented Europe at the biannual International Ladies Gaelic Football World Cup in Dublin.
The panel for the competition was:
Sonja Dockx, Patricia Willaert, Maja Van Develde, Karina de Boeurse, Patricia Hickey, Niamh Matthews, Cheryl Lee MacIssac, Maggie Bowers, Patricia Ngo Ndong, Lise Libo, Jennifer Weber, Denise Butler, Ita Gunn, Emily Jane White, Wendy Snell, Sharon Bonney, Susan Quaid, Martina Sheridan, Sharon Quaid, Ingrid Ibs, Suzanne Grant.
There they competed against teams from London and the Rest of Britain, North America, Canada and Australasia and, while not winning, they certainly put European women’s Gaelic football on the map in more ways than one. Joe McDonagh, who just finished a 3 year term as GAA President outlined their efforts and applauded their success on RTE TV on Saturday night (24 September) during the All Ireland Gaelic Football final preview.
The Brussels women finished the year off in November with a match at the GAA tournament in The Hague run by the Irish Club of the Netherlands. What the Brussels women found in their travels during 2000 was that, with the exception of Brussels and Jersey, there had been no other real breakthrough for ladies football in Europe.
But under the guidance of Patricia Hickey, the women’s gamed started to develop during 2001. In ay, Brussels travelled to Luxembourg to take on the Paris ladies. Arriving with nine ladies, they enlisted the assistance of experienced campaigners Ann Donnelly (Meath, ex Paris) and Emma Ni Dhonaill (Donegal, Luxembourg). Paris had a full squad with 11 players. Played in blistering sunshine, the match was a close and entertaining 10 a side game, played as the curtain raiser to the Blackstuff final. In the end the Brussels/European team ran out winners by 1-5 to 1-3. The next competition was held in Jun e in Brussels and this time the Paris team made no mistake running out winners on a reversal of the previous competition. In fact two well taken goals were the difference between the teams in an exciting final as Paris won by 2-4 to 0-5. Earlier Brussels had beaten Luxembourg by 2-6 to 1-4 to reach the final.
2001 also saw the first European’s men’s league competition being held. It proved to be a great success involving the following clubs: Irish Club – Netherlands (The Hague), EC Brussels, GSCL Luxembourg, Guernsey Gaels, Paris Gaels Ar Gwazi, Gouez Rennes, Brittany and Bro-Leon, Brest. Continued promotion of the women’s game has seen a major breakthrough this year and there are now plans to run a Ladies Gaelic Football European League in 2002 from March through to June. Teams from The Hague, Paris, Brussels, Luxembourg and Munich are expected to take p-art in this pilot competition. Each round of the league will be played at a different venue with Rennes/Brest, Munich, Paris, Guernsey, Luxembourg and Brussels already pencilled in for the different rounds of the league.
In September 2002 the European ladies will again attend the Gaelic Football World Cup in Ireland, but as the new European League establishes itself, and with the European Selection team planning matches against established ladies football clubs in Ireland and Britain, the team is guaranteed to be a much better. Fitter and skilful unit by the time the International event comes around.
Patricia Hickey (Brussels), Ann Donnelly (ex Paris) and Mary Gavin (The Hague) are just three of the women behind the development of the sport in Europe.