TG4/O'Neills AllStar Awards Banquet Report

Ladies Football Gala night
at the TG4/O’Neills AllStar Awards Banquet
By Fr. Liam Kelleher.

It may have taken 22 years for the first official banquet
for the Ladies Football all-stars to happen. When it happened
on Saturday night last at the Citywest hotel in Dublin.
It was an unforgettable occasion for the 500 plus in attendance
and an even more unforgettable for the 15 all-stars who
made it to the final honours list.

The younger generation were not forgotten either when 4
Provincial awards were made, to Stephanie O’Reilly Connaught,
Rena Buckley Cork, Aisling Doonan, Cavan and Aisling Holton
from Kildare.

The first President of the Ladies Gaelic Football Association
Cavan man Tom Dowd was honoured with the Hall of Fame award.

The occasion was graced with the presence of her excellency
the President of Ireland Mary McAlesse and her husband Dr
Martin. From the moment of her arrival which was greeted
by the largest gospel choir in Ireland from Tullamore, who
began by singing “Search for the hero inside yourself until
you find the key to your life”, to the end of the evening
in the late hours, it was glamour glitz, nostalgia, joy
and a sense of occasion and achievement all the way.

The irrepressible Marty Morrissey was the perfect compere,
indeed it was Marty who had put a huge imput into the pomp
and pageantry of the occasion and everybody associated with
one of most extraordinary evenings in Irish sport must take
a gracious bow and thank the Lord that their efforts were
rewarded. Marty outlined how the Association has grown and
from a few thousand going to All-Ireland now the crowds
are up to 35,000. A review of the year was relived. Of course
the huge gathering descended into a hush when Marty invited
Geraldine Giles to welcome the President Mary McAleese and
introduce the President to speak. Geraldine said “It gives
me immense pleasure as President of the Ladies Football
Association, to welcome you all here to this auspicious
occasion, at our first inaugural AllStar event To night
is a very special night for 49 young ladies not just our
AllStar Nominees but for our 4 young Provincial player s
of the year and one gentleman the first recipient of the
Hall of fame award Tom Dowd.

I had the great pleasure of being to the Cavan Co final
for the first time and on that occasion meeting Tom for
the first time. His interest in the game still is today
as strong as it ever was as all those years ago when he
was President. Although the AllStars have been in existence
since 1980, it is thanks for the banquet to the initiative
of our CEO Helen O’Rourke and to the joint sponsorship of
TG4 and O’Neill’s Sportswear, that has made this night so
special for each of the recipients and nominees.

Our thanks to both Ceannasai Of TG4, Pól O Gallachóir and
managing director of O’Neills’ Sportswear Tony Towell, for
making this possible.

The selection of the 45 nominees was no easy task and ladies
you are the benchmark by which our players the length and
breadth of the country model themselves on your standards.
The Association applauds your achievements in 2003. To-night
is also a very unique occasion for the young ladies who
have been chosen as the first provincial young players of
the yea.r These awards are recognition of the growth of
ladies Football at ground level. These young Ladies have
excelled with their schools clubs and counties and I have
no doubt that in a couple of years they will be standing
as AllStar nominees at Senior level.

Finally I would like to thank immensely Uachtaran a hEireann
for her presence here and giving this event the profile
that we think that it richly deserves. I would like to thank
you all for coming and hope you will have an enjoyable evening
and finally to thank Helen and Marty and all the production
team who have worked so tirelessly not just tonight but
in the last few weeks and months in putting this show together.

I would like to congratulate all our nominees and our Provincial
young players of the year, and Tom on his Hall of Fame Award”
The contribution of Mary McAleese was uplifting, encouraging
and highly motivational. It is worth quoting in full.

“It is just a joy to be here on what is an historic night
probably one of the most historic nights in the history
of our sporting culture in Ireland. The first formal award
ceremony for the ladies Allstars and let me tell you there
is a certain amount of controversy in our house tonight,
with me being here at all. I am going to start with a confession
and my confession is this my daughter Emma played football
with Rostrevor and she banned me from the sideline because
of certain words I was accused of saying, that are clearly
misunderstood and she subsequently apostatised to rowing
and she tells me the reason she did this was very simple
she was pretty sure that I could not walk on water.

She told me before I came out that it was a pure menace
to the game and I hope you accept this in the spirit that
it was intended. All those words on the sideline were meant
to encourage not to discourage. These awards I believe,
with a great passion, are hugely hugely important, because
they give due and proper recognition to the enormous contribution
made to Gaelic games from women of every corner of this
Island. Tonight the spotlight widens as it should, well
beyond the image, so often of men and boys who gather to
discuss our National games, in the wider spotlight we see
clearly the true picture of sporting life in Ireland In
that picture we see the role of women gathering what we
can describe, a huge huge momentum.

Is there any other game in Ireland with the potential that
his game has? I doubt it. Oscar Wilde once quipped that
football was, very well as a game for rough girls, but it
is hardly suitable for delicate boys. I’m not sure if I
would use the term rough, for certainly anyone who watched
that ladies football final just a few short weeks ago between
Mayo and Dublin could rightly say. ‘these women are tough,
they are dressed up magnificently here tonight and I don’t
know would you want to meet them under a dropping ball.
They had to be tough to make it through the gruelling months
of training, the rigours of each match to get to represent
their Co, to represent their Province, to get to All-Ireland
final day in Croke Park, it is no easy journey as all of
you know only too well.

The commitment is absolute and the outcome is always precarious,
it is always in doubt right until the final whistle, and
until recent times it is true to say, that there was very
little serious public recognition of the huge advances that
were being made in Ireland, by our lady footballers. Now
at last all the hard work is paying off, for this has undoubtedly
been a superb year of Ladies Gaelic football. That All-Ireland
final on the 5th of October was attended by a record 30,000
people and watched on TG4 by nearly 200,000 more. Clear
hard evidence that the profile, the popularity of this game
has shifted into a completely new gear, and we think here
tonight we know the best is yet to come. Mayo of course
emerged as champions yet again winning their 4th title in
5 years a truly remarkable and well deserved achievement.

I have to be careful of what I say here because you may
know that accompanying me here on the stage is a certain
lady footballer from Laois with a very strong connection
with Arás an Uachtaran so I have to be neutral, on the subject
of Mayo’s three in a row. Capt Sue Ramsbottom is not only
a trained soldier aside from being an All-Ireland winner,
a former AllStar She is also the person who recently on
radio coined a very new term when everyone else was talking
about the backdoors in the mens football championship Sue
preferred to bring the women through the patio door. The
good news for Mayo, is that Capt Sue Ramsbottom is retiring
they bad news for them is that Capt Sue Burke is back in
the game again and some of you may know she married Dermot
Burke a few short weeks ago and she even managed to get
Dermot here tonight. Before he married he was not much of
a football supporter, so yo can see the big change that
has taken place already.

So who do we say thank you for the staggering growth of
participation in ladies Gaelic football. How did it come
about that participation tripled in the past 5 years and
now that there are 85,000 members around the country. I
guess the answer is very simple, you the people in this
room, you did it step by step over many years, patience
and push, and that is how we have arrived at this remarkable
nigh tonight. Your faith your fidelity your love of this
game has brought it out from the shadows into the main stream,
you have given it a future an exhilarating and exciting
future and that is good news, not simply for Gaelic games
but for families for schools for parishes for communities
for counties for our country.

It is a huge investment in our civic strength, it is a huge
dynamic injection into our culture. The game of women’s
Gaelic sport like every sport it needs its ambassadors it
needs its heroes, and heroines it needs its leaders and
its champions they are the people who provide the inspiration,
that brings each new generation into the game and keeps
them there through all the hard days, the more difficult
days, the days when there isn’t a night like this where
you are out there and the rain is coming down and the snow
is coming down, the hard days of training a hard day when
the game is played and you walk off triumphant an d the
harder day when you walk with your heads low, because you
have to experience the heartbreak of failure.

Tonight we salute those who have been selected from a superb
field of first class athletes, to be the years 2003 special
ambassadors they are entitled to take immense pride in this
historic achievement, and we are entitled to tell them tonight
that we take immense pride in them and their achievements
I want to thank Helen O’Rourke, for the invitation that
allows me to be part of this very special night despite
my daughters reservations about it. I want to thank Helen
for all she has done for that patient way, she has doggedly
promoted the role of women in gaelic games, hard work through
hard times is at last paying off. I am thrilled to see Ladies
gaelic Football take its rightful place in the sporting
spotlight tonight I congratulate everybody involved in making
this evening so special and indeed such a success. The Ladies
Gaelic Football Association, the Sponsors TG4 and O’Neill’s
and all of you who have turned out in such numbers and such
style to show the faith, the belief, the enthusiasm, the
heart you have for this game. May the winners continue to
make us proud as they showcase the joy, the fun the unique
genius that is found only in and through sport, and is found
in a unique and special way in our gaelic games that we
are so lucky to have. If one generation, if just one generation
this fantastic heritage that we have, we wouldn’t have this
night and I think women in particular have known years of
struggle when it would have been easy to walk away and not
hand on the baton to the next generation. From Tommy’s generation
right through to today, people hand on that baton with care
and each year they have seen it grow and I think we are
at the start of something very special here tonight, and
it is thanks to you, Gur raibh Míle, Míle, Maith agaibh
go léir.”

A truly inspiring speech.

Next CEO Helen ORourke responded by thanking the President.

“Just to thanks to,everybody here tonight we talk about
nights and we talk about special nights, this night in years
to come will be written about when history books will be
written. When we talk about our inaugural AllStar night
that special night you made for us president McAleese by
being here with us to honour our game and for the wonderful
words you have spoken here tonight and the faith that you
have in our game. We thank you for your support and for
the support of both yourself and martin have given uss at
our finals over the years We are just delighted and honoured
to have you here On behalf of the Association I would,like
to present you by a piece of bronze sculpture made by Jarleth
Daly, as are the AllStar trophies,here tonight, as a mark
of our appreciation.

Next all the Nominees for the 2003 AllStar ladies team were
introduced for each individual and were read out by Helen
O’Rourke and Former Meath player and All-Star Bernard Flynn.

After the presentations we had a wonderful evenings entertainment
before the dancing began. We had a trip down memory lane.
A wonderful rendition of Songs from the Celtic Tenors. An
exhibition of Irish step dancing, with a dancing school
from Limerick, dressed in the various Co colours and the
finale with the tenors and the Tullamore Gospel choir. If
you want to see coverage of the proceedings keep in touch
with TG4 as well as showing snippets on Monday the 17th
of November at 8pm, the sponsors intend to show a full programme
of the historic event in the not too distant future.

No doubt their tam ratings like they were in the All-Ireland
final will be huge again. The night certainly lifted Cumann
Peil na mBan to a higher level and thanks to TG4 and O’Neills,
the Allstars are now really Allstars.

Fr. Liam Kelleher PR0 087-8516984

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