The first ever ladies Gaelic football match played in the parish of Letterfrack-Ballinakill was a challenge match in May 1997 between the Carna U16 team and a local selection. The match was organised by Kathleen Conneely from Cashleen and not surprisingly the Gaeltacht girls were comprehensive winners on the day. In May 2001, Letterfrack-Ballinakill Community Games Executive Committee entered a girls team into the Under 12 competition for the first time ever. This team was beaten in the opening round of this knockout competition by Dunmore at Headford. For the West Connemara girls in question, this match represented their first taste of competitive gaelic football outside the existing Cumann na mBunscol Primary School structures. The following month, they would embark on their maiden voyage in club football, a journey that would culminate in a county final appearance in Tuam Stadium before the summer was out.
On May 31st 2001, I wrote the following Letter of Application for the attention of Forum, Tullycross Credit Union and Renvyle Sports and Social.
Re: Formation of Under Age Ladies Gaelic Football Club
“Down through the years, the only focus in terms of participation in Gaelic games in the West Connemara area has been on boys and men. In view of the recent upsurge in Ladies Football generally around the country, I felt it is time to present the girls in our region with the opportunity to realise their potential, through serious competition within the county. I have no doubt whatsoever from what I have been privileged to see in the Cumann na mBunscol competitions, that there is an abundance of talent which can be nurtured and developed to its full potential within a club structure. Most of the elements required to develop a club structure are already in place and will present no problem at all. Finance is a key element however and we simply don’t have any. It is in this context of seeking financial assistance that I am now writing to you. The initial cost of launching a new club can be quite considerable. I have enclosed a breakdown of the likely cost and I hope you will consider my application favourably.’”
I will always be eternally grateful to the three aforementioned community organisations for giving favourable consideration to my letter of application all those years ago. Renvyle Sports and Social gave me a grant of €1,000 towards the cost of my proposed initiative. Forum and Tullycross Credit Union also contributed substantial grant aid to the project and a small number of local Primary Schools also gave financial donations.
Gráinne Mhaols LGFA was founded on June 6th 2001. The meeting to set up the club was held in the Marian Hall, Tully Cross. The following people were elected to the Executive Committee by those present:
Richard Dunkley later joined the Galway Ladies Football Board Fundraising Sub-Committee and Stephen Thomas Kane (RIP) was welcomed on to the Galway Ladies Football Board Official Referees Panel.
The aims of the club were set out as follows:
Shortly after this historic meeting, Chairperson Mary Young drafted the following letter for circulation to all the West Connemara Primary Schools.
“I am writing to you to enlist your support for CLG Ghrainne Mhaoil which is a club for girls. There has been a lack of organised team events for the girls, apart from inter school events which are generally dominated by the boys, leaving almost no opportunity for the girls across the West Connemara region to really develop their talents, perhaps to even gain county recognition. Our club has been set up to change all this and we are writing to all the national schools within the West Connemara region to in the hope that they will help us to get started.We have already received a grant of £1000 towards the myriad costs involved, legal, insurance and registration and so on but more funds are needed and with this in mind we decided to write to you due to your very direct interest in the development of sporting opportunities for teenagers. We are keen to avoid looking for sponsorship at this point, from the traditional drink sponsoring companies and also from one business or organization involved in only one parish. We would be very grateful if you would consider sending a donation of £50 to help in the purchase of their playing strip and transport to ensure that this first year is as successful, productive and all inclusive a year for Grainne Mhaols LGFA as possible.”
Scoil Mhuire Clifden was one of the three schools to respond favourably to Mary’s request for much needed funds
CPB Ghráinne Mhaoil participated at juvenile level only that first season. I assumed the role of Coach and duly conducted training sessions at Carna, Clifden and Renvyle throughout the Summer. I was assisted on a number of occasions by Tommy Kane. The Gráinne Mhaols U12s had a very successful campaign which culminated in an historic first ever appearance in the County A Championship Final. Our results in the round robin phase of the West Galway section were as follows were as follows: Gráinne Mhaols 2-7, Salthill 0-0; Gráinne Mhaols 10-6, Annaghdown 0-1; Gráinne Mhaols 8-11, Killanin 0-1 and Gráinne Mhaols 6-4, St Michaels 0-0.
Grainne Mhaols were now through to the semi final of the county championship where the opposition was provided by the second placed team in the Galway North-East section. Played in atrocious conditions, the whole experience turned out to be a very stern test of resolve on a number of different levels for the newly arrived novices, and while they didn’t pass with flying colours, they stil ultimately did enough to ensure that Connemara would be represented in the final match of the competition.
As preparations proceeded in earnest ahead of the upcoming county against red hot favourites St Brendans, Grainne Mhaols travelled down to the heart of our neighbouring county to have a joust with the aristocrats of underage football who club colours just so happened to be red and green. It turned out to be a very worthwhile and productive exercise.
Hopes were justifiably high that Grainne Mhaols would push their esteemed opponents all the way in the grand finale but the Ballygar/Newbridge girls outclassed their valiant opponents in almost every position as they romped to an emphatic 4-11 to 1-0 victory.
On August 12th 2001, Mary Young wrote the following letter of reply for the attention of Galway County LGFA Board Chairperson, Benny Fahy
“I am replying to your letter to Paul Gannon re upcoming Night at The Dogs fundraiser on August 31st. As I am sure you are aware, we are a club that has only been in existence for just over two months. As such,we are struggling to keep our heads above water in a very expensive start up year. The costs of transport alone have come to £1200 due to our location and our desire to as many girls as possible in the region in our training sessions. Along with our football strip, affiliation fees etc this has meant we have spent all our time trying to raise money wherever possible just to make sure we stay in existence and are not just a six month wonder. We are also aware however that for the club to survive, the profiles and successes of the Galway ladies football teams are of great importance and we would like to think that we have a few potential county footballers coming up through our ranks. We would love to be in a position to contribute in a major way to your fundraising but find ourselves unable to do so due to our startup position. In the years to come, we would certainly plan to contribute in a much more positive financial way. However we would like to make a small gesture by sponsoring a dog for £100 and we have also raised £200 for an advertisement. I therefore enclose a cheque for £300 and a copy for the advertisement. We would like you to call the dog Grainne Mhaol. Please do not hesitate to give me a ring if you have any questions.”
Grainne Mhaols also entered an U14 team into the County A championship. They were defeated by Mountbellew in the quarter final by 6-14 to 5-3.
The Inaugural Annual General Meeting of Grainne Mhaols LGFA was held at the Carna Bay Hotel in December 6th 2001. In her opening address, Honorary President, Mary Canning (RIP) praised all the players for their great commitment in 2001 and wished them well in the year ahead. Mary Young thanked all the club volunteers who contributed to making the summer of 2001 such a successful one but added that 2002 would be the ultimate test of the club’s character and resolve. ‘’I don’t want us to go down in history as being a one year wonder’, she added, ‘’so we must continue to have goals and to think and plan in a creative and hard working manner’’. She emphasised that the maintainance of the same level of fundraising would be crucial to continued success and she concluded by reminding all concerned that it was incumbent on them to get more people involved in the running of the club going forward. Paul Gannon reiterated Mary’s comments and stated that he was totally committed to realising the dream of landing an underage County A Championship title inside the next six years. He added that the dream could only become a reality if all the female footballing talent across the region could be discovered, nurtured and developed. He stressed that daunting challenges lay ahead but that they could be overcome with enough technical training, self belief, focus and dedication.
The Election of Officers followed: