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A number of counties lay claim to being the cradle of Ladies Gaelic Football. There is a suggestion that a parish league was organised in Corraclare County Clare in 1926 by Tom Garry of Clonreddin. It lasted for a couple of years but then gradually faded away.

The 60’s seems to provide the first real evidence of this “new craze” as it was called at the time. For years the women of Ireland, like most countries, had stood half a step behind the menfolk. The Gaelic Athletic Association had grown and prospered over eighty years.

From a couple of thousand spectators at the turn of the last century to regular attendances of 70,000 plus was a huge improvement. At least one third of these spectators were women. The 60’s was a decade of change all around. The city of Liverpool let loose a group called the Beatles and the world would never be the same again. Cries of Liberation for women swept the boards. No longer were the fair sex content to be taken for granted.

In every facet of life they began to enter the spotlight, no longer content with household chores. The career woman was born. Sport was an obvious outlet. Athletics had been well and truly conquered, camogie was also established along with female participation in tennis, badminton and hockey etc. However women playing Gaelic football – Now that was one that was guaranteed to raise the eyebrow.

Gaelic Football was considered a mans game in every sense. A tough physical sport that seemed well beyond the capabilities of Ladies. Women’s participation was deemed to be in the role of spectator, cheering (not too loudly) their heroes. Gaelic Games enjoyed a monopoly. Practically every single household had direct involvement, whether it be as a player, official, or spectator. Consequently it was a daily topic on most people’s lips.

It was perhaps inevitable that women should take to the playing fields, Carvinals and Festivals were at their peak. Organisations were on the look out for novel ideas to raise finance. Ladies Football fell into this category. In little pockets around the country such as Clonmel and Ballycommon, in Offaly, games were organized. It was the Ireland of the traditional cross-roads, young people looking for something to do, money was scarce, recreation had to come cheap. One such location was Killmurray cross -roads in the Faithful county as the youth came together on summer evenings in the late 60’s.

The lads moved into the football field adjacent to Kilmurray school to try and emulate the great deeds of that fine Galway three-in-a-row team, or the Offaly minors of ’64. The girls were not content to stand aside and view the proceedings. Indeed the Malones, the Todds, the Walshes and Mary Bridget Boland were intent on proving that ladies could, if given the chance, be equa1ly proficient at the “Peil Gaelach” Two ambitious girls in the group, Maureen Malone and Mary Bridget Boland set out to look for competition. Training began, the lads were always there to offer coaching tips, particularly Paddy Ferry. Known as Ballycommon they ventured into seven-a-side tournaments, putting their skills against Lorra and Redwood (Tipperary) and St . Lomans from Westmeath.

Well known Tullamore personality Michael Noel Byrne presently development officer with the Offaly G.A.A.Board, played his part in organizing a tournament that saw Ballycommon defeat the Marian Hostel Tullamore in the final. The history making team lined out as follows – Geraldine Todd (goalkeeper), Mary B Boland, Ann Malone, Mary Todd, Maureen Malone, Annette and May Walsh. The word spread to Kilcormac and the Ballycommon -Kilcormac clashes that followed generated great excitement. There were three Buckleys and three Malones in direct opposition and in the words of Maureen Malone “there used to be murder but we’d meet at a dance in the Marquee later on and that would all be forgotten”.

Players only needed a of a game and Rene Brennan, Martina Conroy. Essie Walsh, Evelyn Malone, Frances Mc Donald, Tara Mc Donald, Teresa Maher. Will have happy memories of numerous trips in Tom Malones grey volkswagen van and Paddy Feery’s Cortina.

Seamus Aheame of the Dungarvan Gala Festival committee organised a tournament in June 1968 and drew a huge attendance, and the following summer the Clonmel Nationalist carried a notice of a Ladies Gaelic Football match on the lOth July ” Followers of football will be able to see a novel attraction at the Clonmel Sportsfield tonight (Thursday) at 8.30 p.m.

A Ladies Football match between the staff of Clonmel Post Office and the County Council office has been arranged, admission will be 1/- and the proceeds will go to the Biafra Relief Fund.

The standard while to may not approach that of the Kerry mens team will prove an attraction in more ways than one. Some fine entertainment should be provided and the public is asked to support a very worthy cause”.

Probably out of sheer curiosity, along with that worthy cause, a big crowd turned up to a game which the Post Office won. A week later the news paper reported a high standard but scores were hard to come by.

The interpretation of the rules caused problems and this was very much in evidence during the early years. The mens rules were applied and this led to a few hair-raising incidents.

For the record the teams lined out as follows:

POST -OFFICE: Betty Mc Carthy, Helen O Flynn, Mary O Connor, Pat Hoare, Ann O Meara, Monica Sayers, Eileen Bolger, Ann Nolan, Kathleen Nolan, Eileen Bowes. Ann Sheehan, Bernie Cullen, Joan O Dwyer, Judy Cleere, Breda O Meara (capt).

SUBS: Ann Ryan, Joan Ryan, Mary Dennehy.

COUNTY COUNCIL: Noelle Dempsey. Aileen Acheson, Maura Dalton, Carmel O Brien, Eileen Ryan, Josephine O Callaghan, Theresa O Regan, Kathleen O Brien, Mary O Dwyer, Pat Lynch, Kitty Connolly, Margaret Dawson. Ann O Connell, Mary O Keefe, Mary Keane.

SUBS: Una Cooke, Joan Mc Carthy.

The game whet the appetite of the players as well as the spectators and a week later the Post Office played the Carrick-on-Suir Exchange as it was caned in those days. Clonmel notched up their second victory and the success of these two fixtures led to a league being organised.

Eight teams from various organisations entered – Burkes Bacon Factory, Clonmel Industries, Showerings, Currans, Schiessers (2 teams), and the Trail Blazers, the Post Office and County Council. The League was organised by MI O Shea, Michael O Connell and Pierce Butler, and called itself the Ladies Football Organizing Committee. Referees for the Tournament were Jimmy Collins, William Robinson and Tommy Mc Donald Junior.

On the occasion the proceeds which were considerable went to the Northern Refugees, to be forwarded by the Red Cross. By the 12th of October it was down to a final between Showerings and the Post Office with Jimmy Collins a prominent St Mary’s hurling club official as referee.

The game was played on a camogie size pitch and was covered by the Nationalist sports reporter “ATLAS” along with a staff photographer. Progress indeed. There was a great build up, the Post Office made Christy Aylward as the manager with MI O Mahony in charge of Showerings.

Players were permitted to lift the ball directly off the ground. Although Showerings led in the early stages the more experienced Post Office outfit were convincing winners and they were duly presented with their trophies later that evening at a function in the Ormonde Ballroom Clonmel.

Man landed on the moon in 1969 but that had to share the top billing around Clonmel with the novelty of Ladies Football. At that particular time Clonmel was a thriving town and drew much of its work force from surrounding areas such as Ballymacarbry, Newcastle, Ardfinnan and Fethard. It was only natural that the players would bring the news of their new pastime back to their native parishes and this is exactly what happened.

The summer of 1970 saw clubs formed in Ballymacarbry, Newcastle, Ardfinnan, Kilsheelan and Fethard. Tournaments were held regularly, amongst the sponsors were Clonmel Junior Chamber. A couple of shrewd clergymen saw the game as a good parish fund-raiser. The interest was phenomenal. Most of the players were young eligible ladies and this brought along the local “garsuns” to help swell the attendance’s, much to the delight of the organisers. Ballymacarbry club was officially formed on Tuesday 7th July 1970 with Winnie Hallinan as chairperson, Peg Kelleher as Secretary and Noreen Hannigan as Treasurer. The Ardfinnan Festival was a prestigious event for local G.A.A. teams and when they added Ladies Football to the list of events it was a big step. Eight teams took part and was whittled down to the host team and Newcastle.

Prior to the start of the final the teams paraded behind the Convent Girls Pipe Band from Clogheen. Newcastle trained by Tony Rushe won and they were presented with their prizes, skirt-Iengths by the local curate Fr Morrissey.

Clubs still had to raise money for their own individual needs. The church gate collection was popular along with a Dance in the local hall. There was fierce local rivalry along both sides of the river Suir, the Waterford -Tipperary element was a factor, Newcastle and Ardfinnan always pulled out all the stops in G.A.A. and the Ladies were no different.

It helped the attendances and a game between Newcastle and Ballymacarbry, in a N.F.A. sponsored tournament, attracted over 500 spectators to the Mill Field Ballymacarbry. The Nationalist reported that both teams served up a wonderful game before Newcastle’s Eileen Bolger shot the winning goal. Ironically Eileen was a native of Ballyrnacarbry and this increased future rivalry. By now the game was spreading. Emly invited a number of teams into a festival tournament including Solohead, Clonmel, Ardfinnan. Two weeks later it had spread across the Limerick border to Oola and Pallasgreen. Ladies Football had really arrived.

The year ended with a South Tipperary – West Waterford league played on a double round basis and Newcastle confirmed their superiority over the local sides. Thus the first year of real competition in the region came to an end and the seeds were securely sown. At last the Ladies in rural areas had a means of recreation that not alone gave them healthy enjoyable exercise but also put them in the public eye. 1971 was to be a real test. The initial novelty had worn off and now the game would have to stand on its own merit, with a view to improve the games status a convention was called in Clonmel in March. A south Tipp fixtures board was set up to organize a proper league and arrange matches. By now Ballymacarbry and neighbours Touraneena had formed a team and within a week Killrossanty did like wise. On Saturday the 24th July 1971 the Dungarvan Observer carried the announcement that a Ladies Football championship would be run off in Waterford. It was decided that all games would be played in Leamybrien a little village seven miles outside Dungarvan on the Waterford road.

A county board was set up under the chairmanship of Fr Percy Ahearn a native of Colligan with Margaret Foley as Secretary. Two weeks later the first championship match took place and Ballymac scored a six-point victory over Killrossanty. The championship was sponsored by Muintir Na Tire and played on a league basis. Kill, Fenor, Stradbally, and Abbeyside also took part. Ballyrnacarbry and Killrossanty qualified for the final on the 2nd of September. Ballyrnacarbry became the inaugural champions by a two-point margin. Meanwhile Tipperary also organized a championship and two weeks later Ardfinnan surprised favourites Newcastle to capture the first Tipperary title. With club competition going smoothly the idea of an inter-county match arose. Fr Ahearne and Tipperary’s Jim Kennedy and John O Donovan sorted out the arrangements and Sunday the 3rd October saw Tipperary take on Waterford at Ballypatrick a little village outside Clonmel on the foothills of Slievenamon. In what was probably the first ever game of intercounty ladies football. Tipperary won by a couple of points.

In north Cork a series of tournament and challenge games also took place. Knockscavane, Ballydaly, Banteer, Newtownshandrum, Freemount, Boherbue, and Buttervant began to play each other and the spectators started to respond. Likewise in Kerry the trend was the same, carnivals, festivals or anyone of half a dozen other causes was met with a positive response. Kerry’s great football tradition meant that the ladies were ready, willing and able to take the field. Very often girls stood in to make up the numbers, they couldn’t help but be interested faced with a constant diet of hurling and football from fathers and brothers. Ladies football gave them an opportunity to fulfil their own dreams. Roscommon was another county with strong tradition. However it was 7 a – side football that got the game off the ground. Clan na Gael, Ballintubber and Lisnamult were the instigators. Individuals such as P J Lennon and Marie Holland and Michael Naughton promoted the game. Roscommon county council also played its part with Pat Burke as trainer.

The early 70’s also saw the gradual stemming of the tide of emigration. In the previous two decades employment opportunities were limited so for a large percentage of the youth there was only one alternative – the boat to England and further a field. However economically Ireland began to realize its potential. It was an era of foreign investment particularly by American companies and this helped in no small way to keep the youth in Ireland. However it did necessitate travelling within the country and this flow led to the promotion of Ladies football. A new environment, new friends and a chance to spread the news. Cork began with a divisional championship in 1973. The final was played at Banteer on the 2nd of September and Knockscovane beat Ballydaly 3-4 to 2-3.

A carnival week held in the North West Cork town saw Cork take on Kerry in a game that attracted a crowd of 2,000 spectators. Referee for the occasion was Cork inter-county midfielder Denny Long. Denny was a member of the Cork senior football team that won the All Ireland senior title for the first time since 1945 a couple of weeks earlier. The Kerry side was selected by Mick Fitzgerald and a Scotsman called Alex Rintnel. Cork had a real-star in Bridie Brosnan whilst Kerry’s Mary Geaney contributed 2-6 as the Kingdom won 5-10 to 4-11. In Offaly the G.A.A. was enjoying a boom and ladies football benefited accordingly. There was a very strong Offaly Association in Dublin and it was making a strong contribution on the playing field, where it was to play a huge part in fund-raising for the Faithful County. Actively involved in the Association was Brendan Martin, a native of Tullamore. Brendan’s brother Tom had a holiday house in Stradbally County Waterford which Brendan visited regularly. During one such visit he met a group of girls returning from a football match and thus chance conversation led to a match being organised between the Dublin based group and Stradbally.

This took place a couple of weeks later. Brendan was impressed and further contact with his native county led to Kerry being invited up to Offaly. It was billed as an UN-official All Ireland and resulted in a big win for the home side. By the end of 1973 there was enough evidence to suggest that the game was on a sound footing. The responsive as positive. Club championships had proved very popular. But the various inter-county challenges brought a new dimension. Players longed for the chance to wear the county colours. It was time to organise the game nationally. The following twelve months was to fashion that particular structure.


1974 brought the revitalization of Gaelic football. It had lost a little bit of its glamour but the emergence of the Dubs with Kevin Heffernan as manager brought the crowds flocking back. Hill 16 became an institution as the spectators introduced a witty repertoire of songs a selection of banners along with the traditional colours as the Sam Maguire Cup went back to the Capital City for the first time since 1963. It became fashionable to play football again as the trend in which the code was under threat from English Soccer was reversed.

Croke Park became a cauldron, the atmosphere was fantastic and the G.A.A. benefited accordingly. Ladies Football also made giant strides. Several county boards were set up. Michael Naughtons house in Lisnamult Co Roscommon was the venue for a meeting which set up a county board on Wednesday 26th June. Marie Holland was elected chairperson with Michael Naughton as Secretary- Treasurer. The committee included PJ Lennon, Elizabeth O Brien, Patrick Burke, Margaret Flanaghan, Ann Naughton, Patricia Kilroe and Ann Crean. This led to the commencement of a county championship. Clan na Gael won the first county title defeating Ballintubber in the C.B.S. field in Roscommon in a score line of 3-6 to 4-2 in a cracking game.

A meeting was called at Killurney a little village in Tipperary with a view to setting up a national association. Personnel from a number of counties attended and a few players were in favor of a trip abroad to either England or America. Jim Kennedy and John Donovan were adamant -get the game organized in .Ireland first and then talk about trips. It was decided to call another meeting and try and get,. more delegates. Hayes Hotel Thurles was the chosen venue. Ninety years earlier the Gaelic Athletic Association was founded in this famous hotel and Thursday evening the 18th July saw four counties Tipperary, Offaly, Galway, and Kerry represented. The Ladies Gaelic Football Association was officially founded. Tipperary’s Jim Kennedy was elected as President. Jim was a native of IKillenaule and a Sergeant in the Army. He had served in both the Congo and Cyprus in the 60’s and at this particular time he was living in Clonmel and was an instructor in the F.C.A. in Cahir. Mary Nevin from Kilcornlac in Offaly took the position of Secretary .Mary worked with the Eastern Health Board in the Mater Hospital in Dublin, but played club football with Kilcornlac Roscommon’s Margaret Flanaghan became treasurer. Margaret hailed from and played with Ballintubber, she was a founder member ofher club and worked as a physiotherapist at the county hospital in Roscommon. Marie Holland,also from Ballintubber, aDept of Agriculture official, became vice president with Offaly’s Joe Feighery as assistant secretary and Brendan Martin as assistant treasurer.

It was decided to hold a senior inter-county championship with each county paying a £10 fee to cover medals. Eight counties Roscommon, Laois, Offaly, Galway, Kerry, Cork, Waterford and Tipperary indicated of their interest to take part. The four Munster counties were drawn in opposition and agreed to playa Munster championship on a league basis. It was decided to draft a set of rules as their was different interpretations with some counties using the complete set of G.A.A. rules. Roscommon were drawn against Laois, Offaly were drawn against Galway along with the Munster championship.

On Thursday 8th August a Kerry county board was formed at the Austin Stack Pavilion in Tralee. Richard Williams of the Fossa Killarney was elected chairman, Joan Kelleher became secretary with Ardfert’s Pat Lawlor as treasurer. A second meeting was held at the commercial rooms in Kelly’s hotel Portlaoise. The playing rules were discussed and a total of forty rules were drafted. Several of these were similar to those of the G.A.A., the most notable being that a size 4 football be used, a player n:ay pick the ball clearly off the ground. The traditional 50 was to be taken from 30 yards out [similar to camogie]. Over the next two years meetings were held at several different venue’s including the Famham Arms Hotel in Cavan, Bolgers Hotel Tullamore, the Shamrock Lodge Hotel in Athlone, Egans Hotel Birr, Lawlors Hotel Dungarvan, The Royal Hotel Roscommon and the American Hotel in Eyre Square Galway.

Prominent county delegates during that period included Offaly Phyllis Hackett, Ballycumber Joe Feighery, Ballycommon Mick Talbot, Kilcormac Tom Kenny Banagher, Tipperary John Donovan Kilsheelan, Derry Shanahan Littleton Mick Lonergan Golden, Waterford Ann Mc Carthy Ballymacarbry, Noreen Begley Stradbally, Kerry Richard Williams Tralee Mick Fitzgerald Castleisland, Laois Tom Daly and Eileen Maher Stradbally, Cork Tommy Tucker Ballydaly Nora Mitchell Little Island, Roscommon Michael Naughton Lisnamult Ann Dolan Ballintubber , Galway Pack Conway Corofin. The championship got under way, both Laois and Roscommon had inexperienced sides.

Laois county board wasn’t formed until 1976 but Joe Strahan of St Fintans hospital Portlaoise arranged for Peter Dunne to train a group of 25 ladies who were , interested in representing the county. Roscommon also lacked match practice and Laois advanced to the next round. Galway had formed a board with Frank Kearney (Torloughmore) as chairman, Margaret Colleran (Fr Griffens) as secretary and Bridget O Brien as treasurer. Pat Conway (Corofin) invited Offaly to travel to Galway for a tournament game and a month later the sides met at Kilcormac in the championship. It was part of a festival and a band paraded the teams.

Galway’s team comprised mainly of camogie players was very young including a couple of fifteen year old girls. Offaly had three years of inter-county competition behind them and scored an impressive 5-5 to 1-3 victory. Down south in the league Munster championship Tipperary defeated Waterford 3- 8 to 2-6 in Fethard and following that with a good victory over Cork. Kerry also defeated Waterford and Cork to qualify for the Munster final against Tipperary at Kilsheelan on the 15th September. Tipp led by six points at halftime but had to survive in a nail biting finish by a single point 2-6 to 2-5 with Eleanor Carroll and Mary Mc Grath scoring the vital goals. Two weeks later Offaly faced Laois in Portlaoise. Offaly were firm favorites but the O Moore county hadn’t read the script and Offaly were fortunate to record a 3-6 to 2-6 victory. Thus Tipperary and Offaly were to contest the first All Ireland Senior Final.

Tipp had prepared diligently all year. John O Donovan was in charge of training and his fellow selectors were Sean Gorey, Jim Kennedy and Teddy Keane. they trained at Rockwell College where they had the use of excellent facilities and usually ended the session with a swim in the pool. In September they moved to Ferryhouse outside Clonmel because it was floodlit. Barlows Ltd were approached for sponsorship and they donated a set of jerseys. The presentation was made by the company director Carrie Acheson, later to become a T.D. Offaly trained at both C.H.S. school in Tullamore , and at Kilmurray cross. Bro Sylvestor Kearney, Joe Feighery and Mick Talbot ensured that Offaly were well prepared. The final was fixed for Durrow county Laois on Sunday the 13th October 1974 at 3.30p.m. with Kerry’s Paul O Sullivan the appointed referee.

A press conference was called for Hayes Hotel on the Thursday evening prior to the game. The organizers were concerned with the lack of coverage and sought to give the historic game a boost. It had the desired effect, on Saturday the Evening Press carried the headline Make way for that other All Ireland Liam Kelly wrote ” Move over Heffo’s Army, the girls of Offaly and Tipperary are after that All Ireland Football crown. But the Dubs need have no fear. The girls have their own All Ireland Championship to play for so there”.

On Sunday afternoon Irish Press reporter Dan Coen and photographer John Rowley made the trip to Durrow. The following day Dan reported under the heading II All Ireland first for the women”- it had not the huge crowds but yesterdays first Ladies All Ireland football final between Offaly and Tipperary (the winners by a single point) had all the enthusiasm and thrills of many an All Ireland in Croke Park. Tipperary won the toss and elected to play uphill and thats exactly what they did, for though the pitch was in excellent condition the incline would put the heart crossways in any trainer who might find his team trailing at the half way stage and having to face it in the second half. The play was fast and tough and as referee O Sullivan said -“not without a great deal of expertise”. Tipp were older too and maybe this combination helped them to become the first champions on a new branch of the G A A which is hoping for full affiliation with the Association headquarters.

Towards the end of the first half Tipp were in a comfortable lead of 1-2 to 0-0, and it seemed despite the determined play of the Offaly women and the vocal support from the sidelines that the match was over. However Mary Nevin sec of the ladies G.A.A. and a sub on the Offaly team told me to keep an eye on her side because they never said die. She was right, for within minutes of the restart Offaly took the lead with a goal. Still Tipp came back and with about eight minutes to go went ahead with a point from a free and that was that

Tipperary had won the first All Ireland Ladies Football final in a score of 2-3 to 2-2. The enthusiasm was there with much umbrella waving and shouting and calling an all the saints in Heaven and sometimes for the devil to do something about the flagging fortunes of either side. It was a great day for women’s football, and a nice ladylike touch was added when the Offaly captain Agnes O Gorman presented the cup to the Tipperary captain Kitty Ryan. With a bit of luck more than eight counties will take part in next years championship and the All Ireland will be played in Croke Park.

The Tipperary supporters led by cheer leader Gertie Strappe a supermarket owner from Golden were in jubilant mood after the game. Winners of the first All Ireland senior hurling title way back in 1887, they became the first county to receive what over the years has become a coveted prize the Brendan Martin Cup. After the game both teams adjourned to a local hotel where they had in the words of Jim Kennedy- ” a bit of a do”. There they chatted and in many cases began friendships that were to span the next decade. For Tipperary there was no majestic home coming, but the following night they travelled to Ardfinnan the home club of captain Kitty Ryan where they were awarded a reception hosted by the local Ardfinnan G.A.A. club. That was followed by a mayoral reception in Clonmel with doing the honors. It was a disappointed but very determined Offaly team that made the relatively short journey home on Sunday evening the 13th October. Theirs was a very young side and surely the experience gained would stand to them in the future. They were not to know that it would take another four years of hard work coupled with several disappointments before they landed the big prize.

The game also caught the imagination of the Evening Press and the Monday edition gave it liberal coverage under the heading “HATS OFF TO THE GIRLS” before continuing “IF THE OFFALY G.A.A. LADIES DIDN’T WIN THE ALL IRELAND AT DURROW, LAOIS, YESTERDAY THEY SET A STYLE ON HEADGEAR THAT HEFFO’S ARMY -OR ANY OTHER ARMY FOR THAT MA TTER – COULD EMULATE WITH ADVANTAGE.”

It was the first such clash and it dispelled any illusion that this kind of sport in not for the gentle sex. Offaly the vanquished are still powdering their wounds -the 30 girls on the pitch and their legions of supporters have little to learn of the fine points of the game. On page 3 there was photographs ofMary Buckley, Fidelma Geraghly, Rena Brennan, Urusla Corrigan and Catherine Hanlan wearing distinctive caps that wouldn’t have been out of place at a Paris fashion show.

Four weeks later the Sunday Press continued the welcome coverage with a feature on Tipperary captain Kitty Ryan under the heading “KITTY IS ON THE BALL” The Press continued with a quote from Jim Kennedy ” Ladies football is a very serious business and were to be taken seriously. Its not just a gimmick or a flash in the pan. Ladies football is catching on and the girls are taking it very seriously”

Kitty continued ” we get big crowds when there’s no other sporting attractions to draw them away. Some of the lads might come along for a laugh at the girls but I think most of them now realise that we can play good football”.

Thus 1974 came to an end with the game firmly established in eight counties. The players of today owe a great debt of gratitude to the trail blazers both on and off the field, who put down the solid foundation that has stood Ladies football in such a good stand over a quarter of a century.

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