A Conversation With Catherine (2011)


CONNEMARA JERSEYCatherine:  So Paul, when did the ladies gaelic football journey begin?

Paul:  1997 was my first experience of ladies football.  I was in the full throes of junior soccer with West Coast United and we were going all out to win the Division 2 League and Cup double that season.  We had a match in Tullycross, and on this particular Sunday there was a girls gaelic football match on before ours. To be honest, I hardly passed any notice of it.  It had been organised by Kathleen Conneely from Cashleen, an under 16 challenge between Carna and a local Renvyle selection.  Kathleen’s daughter Colleen was playing on the Carna junior team which reached two county finals that year.  I’d no idea at the time that Carna had an official Ladies Gaelic Football Club.   Colleen was also on the Galway county panel that year.

Catherine:  Did you know at the time that there was a girl from the parish playing competitive Gaelic football with an official club?

Paul:  I’d no knowledge of it at all as I was highly immersed in Renvyle GAA in both an administrative and a playing capacity, and to be honest, I wasn’t even aware that Peil na mBan even existed as a sport, although I did have some experience of girls playing gaelic football in primary school.  I was Principal at Aillebrack National School at the time where there were four promising footballers, namely, Bernadette Conneely, Melissa Sweeney, Louise Conroy and Emer Griffin.  Prior to that I had taught locally in Lettergesh National School where Petrina Coyne and Martina Coyne were well able to hold their own with the lads.  So, you could say that I had a fair appreciation of girls being part of the gaelic sporting experience at school, but I had no concept of a club scene at all.  I was in my mid-twenties and totally focused on trying to get up to intermediate level with Renvyle GAA.  Credit goes to Kathleen Conneely from Cashleen because she was the person who was responsible for bringing ladies football into this parish for the first time ever.

Catherine:  Do you think she was looking to form an official club?

Paul:  It was probably an experiment on her part to see how viable it could be for Renvyle to have an underage girls team.  Carna won the match comprehensively on the day, and to the best of my knowledge there was no sequel.  Maybe the Renvyle girls got a bit too disheartened after the heavy defeat.

Catherine:  So, how did you start to become involved if you were so immersed in playing Gaelic football and soccer yourself?

Paul:  It was down to the fact that I was a teacher.  I became Principal of Eagles Nest at the beginning of 1999, and over the next two years I taught four girls who were really exceptional footballers.  They were exceptional in the sense that they had higher interest levels, higher commitment levels and higher skill levels than ninety percent of the boys in their age group.  They were Becky Heanue, Tara Flaherty, Danielle Lydon and Fionnuala Hannigan-Dunkley.  I became a member of the Cumann na mBunscol County Committee, and then within that role, I became coordinator of Connemara gaelic football competitions for both boys and girls.  My area of jurisdiction spread right across the West Connemara region from Cill Chiarain Bay in the south to Killary Harbour in the north.  Through all the administrative work, I became familiar with both the topography of the region and the gaelic football fraternity therein.  Being bilingual helped and before long I had developed a great sense of West Connemara pride and identity.  Little did I realise that I was laying the foundation for what was to come.

Catherine:  Did you find much enthusiasm for Girls Gaelic Football within the West Connemara schools when you first started contacting all the Principals with your plans and proposals?

2010 WINNERSPaul:  Well, my own school was unique in terms of the quality of players I had at my disposal.  I had girls who could outperform lads on the pitch in terms of skill, power and speed, but this scenario was very much the exception rather than the rule.  In all the other schools, the girls would have been on the subs bench so one of the structures that I brought in straight away was independent gaelic football competitions for girls.  That was the first major impact I made within the structure.  I was setting a new precedent aimed at giving the female footballers a proper gaelic sporting experience within the educational system.  I cajoled and coaxed schools into putting out all girls team.  So, I was changing mindsets, I suppose.  All of a sudden, the number of girls playing gaelic footsball in the West Connemara region increased out of all proportion.  Prior to that there was only the odd girl making the boys team.

Catherine:  So, did a club concept then emerge from the Cumann na mBunscol initiative?

Paul:  Yes, that’s basically what happened.  I had what I suppose you could call my Eureka moment in May 2001 while standing in the middle of Tullycross Community Sportsfield.  There were four girls matches in progress simultaneously and a small number of girls were standing out head and shoulders above the rest in each contest.  It was then that it suddenly dawned on me that there could potentially be enough naturally talented players to construct a team that could represent West Connemara within the Galway Ladies Football Board club structure.

Catherine:  So, in that mental calculation you were envisaging a team of the future and looking into potentially pulling all these players together under one banner.

Paul:  Yes, that was it exactly.  I started doing the count there and then.  I’d four in my school, there were two in Letterfrack, two in Ardmore, three in Leenane, one in Cleggan, one in Lettergesh and I hadn’t even factored in Clifden because they weren’t there on the day.  I knew there weren’t sufficient numbers within the strict geographical boundaries of my own parish so I adopted a wider regional perspective.  The latter was something I was acutely tuned into because I played for West Coast United, took an interest in the fortunes of Connemara RFC and often wondered how Renvyle and Naomh Feichin GAA clubs would have fared if they had ever amalgamated under the name of Connemara Gaels.

Catherine:  It’s an extensive geographical area but would be sparsely enough populated so I can understand the desire to pool the resources from a few parishes.

Paul:  Well, it wasn’t like I was setting a new precedent in that regard.  St. Brendans in County Galway, Carnacon in County Mayo, Southern Gaels in County Kerry and Beara in County Cork were all high profile LGFA clubs nationally who were established along the same lines.  More recently, West Clare Gaels who won the 2010 All Ireland Intermediate Championship would be another example.

Catherine:  So, did you call a meeting straight away and invite parents and representatives of the other local GAA clubs?

Paul:  No, I took a while to sort out a few things in my head first before I involved anybody else.  I didn’t want to call a meeting until I had a clear and concrete proposal to put on the table.  I needed a name; thought about a place, a saint or an historical figure and then chose the latter.  When I looked at the history of the West Connemara region within the context of what I was hoping to create, Grace O’Malley was the obvious choice.  The O’Malleys hailed from South-West Mayo and were neighbours to the O’Flahertys who controlled the West Connemara region back in the sixteenth century.  Gráinne  Mhaol was married off to Dónall O’Fhlatharta who lived back in Bunowen Castle between Ballyconneely and Aillebrack.  She spent a number of years there before eventually returning to Murrisk after her husband was killed in battle with the Joyces of North Connemara, and set up her headquarters on Clare Island.  She was later reputed to have attacked Curragh Castle in Renvyle which is only over the road from Eagles Nest National School.

Gráinne  Mhaol was ruthless, mercenary, clever, astute and the only female to secure the position of clan leader throughout the whole of sixteenth century Gaelic Ireland.  Like Saint Bridget in the fifth century, Gráinne  Mhaol was a woman who was many years ahead of her time, an inspirational figure in many respects who espoused all of the qualities that I would hopefully someday ingrain in the female football players at my disposal.  Having settled on a name, the next thing was a club crest and the logical one was a ship so I went to Connemara West office services in Letterfrack and got them to design it.  I then came up with the slogan “Mná an Iarthair” (Women of the West) to go with the Irish Seanfhocal “Ní Neart Go Cur Le Chéile” (The Strength is in the Pulling Together) which seemed to gel perfectly with the slogan and the crest.

Catherine:  What about the financial side?  I’m sure the start-up costs would have been substantial.

Paul:  I sent Letters Of Application  in that regard, to Renvyle Sports and Social, Tullycross Credit Union and Forum and they all came up trumps.  I also wrote to all the primary schools within the West Connemara region and some of them kindly sent on financial donations and letters of support for the proposed venture.

Catherine:  Did you do all this work before the initial foundation meeting?

Paul:  Yes, because I didn’t see the point of calling a meeting unless I had at least some of the ground work put in place.  Once I had the funding sorted out, I felt ready to launch the project.

Catherine:  So, who did you invite to the meeting?  Did you involve all the local GAA clubs within your catchment area?

Paul:  I didn’t contact any of their officials at all because I wanted this new club to be independent, to have its own name and identity and to be distinctly female in character.  The last thing I wanted, was for it to become a subordinate part of an existing GAA club so, with this in mind, I contacted forty women, all mothers of girls who played gaelic football, and about twenty turned up.  One man turned up to represent his wife and I also invited Mary Canning because I was hoping she might consider becoming our first president.

Catherine:  So, what was the initial reaction like?  Were they delighted that their daughters were being thought of?

Paul:  They were absolutely delighted and they were hugely appreciative and totally supportive.   They listened and absorbed everything that was being said and really went with the philosophy that was presented to them.  They were very acquiescent in terms of the proposed name and seemed to have a great appreciation for the depth of thought that I had put in to the idea.  I knew then that I had made the correct decision and there was no negativity or doubt in my mind.  None of these women had any prior experience of gaelic football at club level, so they had no predispositions against the concept.  They were very open minded, receptive and positive, and most importantly for me, I got the strong vibe that they trusted in me as a person, and in my ability to deliver. There was also no resentment whatsoever that I had put a foundation of sorts in place prior to calling the meeting.

Catherine:  So, did ye elect an Executive Committee at that first meeting?

Paul:  We did indeed.  Mary Young was elected Chairperson, Lyn Heanue agreed to take charge of the money and I was asked to do the secretarial work.  There were various other people elected also, but the one that I was most delighted about was Mary Canning, our first Honorary President and very much the elder stateswoman among us.  Mary had attended Eagles Nest NS in the fifties and was, by all accounts, a brilliant footballer who got no opportunity to really display her talent.  If ladies football had been properly organised during the decade in question, I’ve no doubt that Mary would have worn the maroon and white at some stage.

Catherine:  I presume you were elected as the first ever coach or did you have any one else lined up?

Paul:  No, it was just myself in the beginning and we held our first ever training session on the Community Sportsfield in Tullycross on a Saturday morning.  Forty girls turned up and they were all under 12.  We just played a twenty-a-side match and from the moment I threw the ball in I knew that a journey was about to begin, that would go on for a long long time.  There was a great sense of destiny.  Looking back now I think that one of the strong points of working with the girls at that age was that they really listened.  There was no attitude, only a hunger to learn, and they seemed to hugely appreciate that an adult male was taking such an interest in their gaelic sporting endeavours.

Catherine:  Where did ye play your first match?

Paul:  The first competitive match we played wasn’t a club match.  It was a Community Games fixture in Headford against Dunmore and we were playing under the name Letterfrack-Ballinakill so I wasn’t  allowed to use any Gráinne Mhaol girls who resided outside my native parish.  We scored two goals inside the first five minutes which really rattled Dunmore but they recovered well and went on to win comfortably.  Shortly afterwards Gráinne  Mhaols played their first official league match in Clifden against Salthill which they won  quite easily.

Catherine:  Were ye in the lowest grade of Under 12 starting off?

Paul:  No, there was only one A  grade, twelve teams, split into two groups of six, East and West.  We beat all the other Connemara teams quite easily and qualified for a semi-final with Mountbellew-Moylough in Inverin.  It was played in atrocious conditions and it was the first really tough test that they got.  They were losing at half time and the heads were down but they improved considerably in the second half and eventually won by four points.  The North Galway girls couldn’t believe that they’d been beaten by complete unknowns from a part of the county where there wasn’t even a tradition of ladies football.

Catherine:  Where was the final played and was there much hype and excitement locally?

Paul:  We were to play St Brendans so Galway city would have been very central, but I was aware that the Galway adult team were playing Leitrim in the Connacht Junior Championship in Tuam Stadium, so I rang up Benny Fahy, the Chairperson of the Galway Ladies Football Board, and asked him if we could play our Under 12 final as a curtain raiser.  I was chancing my arm, but he went for it and I will always be grateful to him for facilitating me.  The only problem he envisaged was the absence of official Under 12 posts inside the confines of Tuam Stadium, so I ensured him that our club would supply same and we did.  We brought the posts down on the bus.

Catherine:  Had ye much support on the day?

Paul:  We did and fair play to them, they made a lot of noise on the terraces which really added to the atmosphere.  Connemara Community Radio also came down and covered the match live for the people back home.

Catherine:  Your players must have been very nervous to be playing in such a big match in such a short space of time.

Paul:  Yes, they were, to a degree.  We were only together five weeks whereas St Brendans were much more experienced.  I remember sitting with them in the dressing room beforehand and telling them about Purcell and Stockwell and other Galway footballing legends who had graced Tuam Stadium and that now, it was their turn.  I told them that I was never fortunate enough as a player to participate in a County Final in Tuam Stadium so more than anything else, I wanted them to go out and enjoy and savour the occasion on such a beautiful and perfect day for football.

Catherine:  Did you expect to win it?

Paul:  I was quietly confident, but we were just blown away by the power, skill and experience of our opponents who beat us by twenty points.  It was our first lesson in defeat and they were hugely disappointed and down after the match.

Catherine:  What did you say to them afterwards?

Paul:  I immediately made it clear to them that they were the second best team in Galway and commended them on how far they had come in such a short space of time.  I told them they had done West Connemara proud and could hold their heads high.  The most important thing that I explained to them, however, was that defeat was an essential part of the footballing process, and that it has to be embraced because we can learn so much form it.  I told them that there would be many more county finals to come, provided that they learnt to treat victory and defeat in the same manner along the way, and now, eleven years on, I can honestly say that Gráinne  Mhaols LGFA has never let itself down in this regard.  I then stayed on to watch the Galway v  Leitrim match, the first adult ladies gaelic football encounter that I’d ever witnessed and it was a complete revelation to see women give such great expression to all the skills of the beautiful game.

Catherine:  So, did your team ever get its own back on St Brendans over the next few years?

Paul:  Yes, we eventually did three years later, at Under 16 level, but not before they hammered us in the 2002 Under 14 A Championship Final in Caherlistrane by 3-14 to 1-2.  The following year, Dunmore were favourites to win the Under 14 A championship but we beat them in Clifden by 5-8 to 2-13 after extra time, in a brilliant match.  We qualified for a semi-final against Corofin and I fully expected to make it through for another tilt at St Brendans, but we were hammered by 10-10 to 4-2.  It was a major setback and a massive reality check but we redoubled our efforts on the training ground in 2004 and got to the two Under 16 finals with about three quarters of the original Under 12 team.

Catherine:  When you say two Under 16 finals, do you mean league and championship?

Paul:  Yes, we played them in the league final first and we nearly had them.  Half way through the second half we were four points up but they caught us at the end.  Ten days later, we were back for the championship final and everything that I had worked on for the previous three years in terms of getting the team to play to its full potential, finally all came together.  For thirty minutes, they played to the level that I knew they were capable of, and everything clicked.  Six goals and three points and the game was over.  They just absolutely destroyed St Brendans.  It was the greatest moment of my sporting life and possibly to this day still is, because it was the culmination of a dream after so much hard work, and the players had finally proved to themselves that they could cut it at the highest level. They could compete with the best and come out on top.

Catherine:  How did St Brendans take the defeat?

Paul:  Their players were spot on but the manager was less than gracious.  She came in to our dressing rooms afterwards and we were expecting her to be magnanimous or to at least to acknowledge our perseverance and determination.  She was having none of it and if the truth be told she would have been better employed to have stayed in her own dressing room.  Her attitude couldn’t tarnish the day for us, however, and we celebrated our milestone in Gorilla Games in Knocknacarra afterwards.  I told them that night, that some day they would bring the club to senior adult level, and when we eventually achieved that long term objective six years later, nine of them were still with us.

Catherine:  With a team of teenagers, it will always be a challenge to keep a team unit together as they undergo so many life changes, pressures of education, etc.  Was this a serious issue for the team?

Paul:  Well, with that particular bunch of players, there was a very high commitment level up until that final.  It is often the case though in sport, that when a dedicated group work to a goal and ultimately achieve it, they can subsequently plateau, and that is what happened.  I naively thought at the time that we’d hold on to all of them but we lost half of them literally overnight and I never saw it coming.  They now had other things going on in their personal lives that took priority over football and I had to understand and accept that.  We reached the Under 16 A League final in 2005 but were well beaten by Dunmore and our Minors reached a second successive A final but were hammered by Corofin, so I could see that the wheels were starting to come off re to Gráinne  Mhaols being able to maintain an impact at the highest level of underage football.  The following year we were regraded at B level and over the next few years our underage grading plummetted right down to D level.  Successive underage managers did their best to counteract this slide in standards but to no avail.

Catherine:  Are you really disappointed that Gráinne  Mhaols no longer feature at the highest level in underage football?

Paul:  No, not at all.  I was obsessively driven to win an A title in the early years because I knew I had the raw material and I believed in my own coaching ability, ethos and philosophy. More than anything, I wanted those Gráinne  Mhaols players to prove to themselves that they could turn the heartbreak of successive county final defeats into a glorious county final victory some day.  These were the players that I was banking on to bring the club to senior so they were serving their apprenticeship, so to speak, and it was imperative that they achieve some notable milestones throughout that apprenticeship, in order to have the self confidence and self belief to make the journey from Junior B to Senior within the adult ranks.

Once the club’s adult team made it to senior league level in 2007, my whole philosophy re underage changed.  Henceforth, the important thing was to keep fielding teams in all age groups and to ensure that the girls enjoyed the football experience both on a physical and a social level.  I wasn’t really as driven by underage success anymore because our adult team were now in the highest grade in league and the second highest grade in championship, so for me going forward, it was more a matter of identifying the more talented players at a young age and nurturing them along the underage road so that they’d be ready to play top level adult football when the time came.  At the end of the day, the real purpose of underage is to ensure a steady supply of footballers to the adult team so that the club survives and doesn’t fold.

Catherine:  Did you pull away from the underage set up completely once the adult team got to the higher levels?

Paul:  No, I still maintained a coaching role with some of the underage teams.  In 2010 for example, I coached the Intermediates who achieved promotion to Senior and I also coached the Under 14s who played in Division 4 and lost all their league matches.  As you can well imagine, there was quite a contrast between the two experiences but I really enjoyed the underage challenge and it kept me really grounded as a coach.  At least five of that Under 14 team should develop into strong senior footballers if they keep the interest up over the next five years.

Catherine:  Your passion for coaching seems to equal your passion for playing in ways, would you agree?

Paul:  Yes, I suppose it does.  For me, I feel incredibly alive and invigorated when I’m on the training ground and the players are working hard in a happy, focused and disciplined manner.  There’s nothing to beat a training session that is going to plan, not even an official match.  When I was a child, I was always out kicking ball and doing my own commentating on whatever fictional match was going on in my head.  As a coach, I tend to be very verbal and actively engaged.  Very often, I’d participate in the drills or conditioned games that we play and commentate accordingly, so the whole experience brings out the kid in me.  Sometimes coaching is almost like a form of escapism from other realities of life.  It’s the perfect antidote after a tough day at work.  I have to add that I’ve been very lucky over the years in that the Gráinne Mhaols girls have also applied themselves very well to the educative footballing process and when players are eager to learn and improve, then the coach’s job is anything but a burden.

Catherine:  Motivation usually comes from more than one source; do you think that the community aspect of the team was another element of its importance and resonance in the area?  You mentioned Mary Canning earlier and her great potential that was never truly realised.  Perhaps you also intended to right the wrongs of those past wasted local talents?

Paul:  I very quickly came to realise that girls had genuine great sporting potential; physically, tactically, kinaesthetically and psychologically; everywhere that they needed it, they had it.  I can honestly say that I’ve never seen any skill exhibited in men’s football that I haven’t equally seen in ladies.  It is the most incredible feeling as a coach when you see the improvement in players.  Some of the scores that were converted in that Under 16 final, the clinical manner in which they were created and executed, was a joy to behold.  It went to a level far higher than I was ever able to give expression to myself, in my days playing junior with Renvyle and here I was, watching teenage girls doing it.  There are a lot of male exponents of gaelic football who are completely in denial about all of this, and would never give to say that women can be equally as top-class as men.  I had some serious footballers on my hands that were way better than I had ever been.  As for the community element, Gráinne Mhaols started to evolve into a well regarded and respected female sporting community of its own.  There was a sense in which the sporting profile of women with Western Connemara society was on the rise and of course, the adult team which initially got off the ground in 2002 played a pivotal role in all of the above.

Catherine:  So, how did the adult football all begin?

Paul:  There were a few women locally who had played for Connemara Coaster LFC for a few years.  One or two of these had daughters on the Gráinne Mhaols Under 12 team so they were well aware of the exploits of the young girls and wanted a taste of it themselves.  Some of them had played a bit of gaelic football in primary school.  Maíre Cloherty and Geraldine McTavish were very experienced players who had won county junior medals with Carna in 1997 and Lisa Coohill had played up to U14 level with the Naomh Feichin boys.  The aforementioned local ladies soccer club was close to disbandment so the timing was perfect for the launch of an adult gaelic team.

Catherine:  What do you remember about the very first training session.

Paul:  Connemara RFC kindly gave us the use of their sand pitch facility, so the first session took place under lights in February 2002.  I had a very passionate style of conversation and delivery which had the effect of focusing their attention very quickly; they could see that I was in the zone so they followed suit.  I treated them in exactly the same manner as I would have treated a bunch of male footballers; there was the same intent and they were probably intrigued and maybe taken a little aback by this at the outset.  I was giving them a high status straight from the off, there were no preliminaries.  I raised the bar from the word go and this was a very deliberate ploy on my part because on a subconscious level, I understood that if we didn’t get off on the right footing, the project was doomed before it even began.  Thankfully, they responded brilliantly to the challenge that was thrown out to them.  In retrospect, I was extremely lucky because they were such a lovely bunch of girls who were so co-operative and enthusiastic.

Catherine:  Did ye play official competitions that first year or was it just football practice?

Paul:  No, I threw them in the deep end the following month in the inaugural West Galway Senior Tournament  (I got the idea from the Comortas Peil na Gaeltachta Men’s Tournament which Renvyle had competed in for years)  They needed a few matches before the first Junior B League match.  I contacted the other four Connemara clubs and Clonbur agreed to host it.  We were drawn against Na Piarsaigh at home in a quarter final and I’ll always be thankful to Maíre Cloherty for bringing a set of Carna-Caiseal jerseys and to Stephen Thomas Kane (RIP) for refereeing.  We won the match comfortably enough but got a rude awakening in Clonbur the following day when Killannin hammered us by twenty four points.  It was a major reality check and a huge learning curve.  Killannin displayed all the qualities that I needed to develop within our players going forward; cohesion, guile, speed, accuracy, telepathy, understanding and so on.  The bar had been set, so to speak, but I had the consolation of knowing that Killannin were in the second tier of Galway football and we were just starting off in the fourth tier so I knew I had three to four years to get to their level.

Catherine:  How did the girls react to the heavy defeat?

Paul:  We stayed in the dressing room for a long time afterwards.  I thanked them for their efforts and told them that their football education was just beginning.  I also added that there was no disgrace in defeat and that we too would one day get to Killannin’s level if we applied ourselves properly to the task.  I also pointed out to them that the East Connemara girls had started out in the early nineties just like ourselves, but were now up to intermediate level, and that this was something we could take inspiration from.  They listened intently and completely embraced the philosophy that I advocated, and we all left Clonbur that day feeling really positive and looking forward to the next outing.  They were ready for their first official Junior B League match and I knew the opposition wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as Killannin.

Catherine:  Did the County Board approve of the tournament.  Did you have to get their permission?

Paul:  Yes, I got the permission from Benny Fahy who thought it was a very novel idea.  The tournament itself which was won by Clonbur had been a resounding success.  It had brought all the Connemara teams together and sowed the seed for the formation of the West Galway Ladies Development Association which would one day bring about the participation of a Connemara representative team in the Connacht Junior Championship.  The most important thing I learned from the whole experience was the benefit of developing my club in conjunction with wider Connemara club development because I knew that if I could be successful in the latter, then I’d most likely be successful in the former too.

Catherine:  Did the West Galway Development Association become part of the County Board structure?

Paul:  Yes, it was a Sub-Committee and it made a major impact out west over the next seven years.  We held our own AGM every year to elect our Executive and that Executive ran off developmental leagues and championships for all the Connemara teams.  The first underage competition was introduced by Richie Bohan in 2006, a West Galway Under 14 Feile, and then the following year, we ran off Under 11, Under 13, Under 15s and U17 leagues, a bit like the City League competitions for boys.

Catherine:  Did new clubs come on board as the years went on?

Paul:  Yes, there was an explosion of clubs within the region.  By 2007 we had fifteen in all ( a three hundred per cent increase). Connemara had probably the highest growth rate in the country when it came to ladies football.

Catherine:  Enough to have a county team of your own?  I’ll come back to that in a few minutes, but how had Gráinne Mhaols fared out throughout all of that time?

Paul:  Well, that first ever league match was actually played on the Leitrim-Kilnadeema hurling pitch in April 2002 against Loughrea.  It was an awful day and we travelled down together on John Wallace’s bus.  Loughrea and Williamstown had played a Men’s Junior A League match beforehand so the pitch was like a quagmire afterwards.  We managed to win by a point and the celebrations went on long into the night.  We had our first two league points and it was an amazing feeling.  We went on to win the League and Championship double that first year and Lisa Coohill made the Galway Junior team which was an added bonus.

Catherine:  So ye were now at Junior A level for 2003.

Paul:  Yes and we’d a great victory over Dunmore in Dunmore on St Patrick’s Day in our first ever league match at the new level.  We were also drawn against them in the championship the following July.  We were all full of high hopes and expectation going into that match but were totally outgunned on the day and could offer no complaints.  It was our first major setback.  I knew I had to get them to detach themselves emotionally from the result straight away in order to refocus immediately on an important upcoming league match in Glynsk only seven days later, so I got them all to sit down in the middle of the pitch to discuss the preparations for same.  I went into organised, clinical and detached mode and they basically had to follow suit which was very hard on them because they had just suffered a really disappointing championship defeat.  I came across as being a bit callous and uncaring but nothing could have been further from the truth as I was totally gutted that we were out of the championship.

We beat Glynsk and duly qualified for league final in Killannin in November by which time Dunmore were Connacht champions.  So I billed it as the unofficial Connacht final, a glorious opportunity for us to prove that we were the best Junior A team in Connacht, and not Dunmore.  It was a fiercely contested match which went right to the wire.  We lost by 2-5 to 1-5.  Dunmore had the edge in experience and it was a complete blessing in disguise that we lost, because had we won, we’d have gone intermediate and would have missed out on winning the Connacht Junior Championship the following year.  I probably wanted us to get up to intermediate somewhat sooner than we were really ready for it.  You think the fates are conspiring against you but ultimately in the long run, they are conspiring in your favour.  It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that you can truly appreciate this.

Catherine:  So Dunmore went Intermediate but ye stayed at Junior A level for another year?

Paul:  Yes, and thankfully everything came together in 2004.  We won the Junior A League and Championship double and embarked on our maiden voyage into Connacht and beyond.  It was fantastic.  We were drawn away in all of our own matches which was the best thing that could have happened as we got to spend three weekends away in Leitrim, Sligo and Kerry, and this really bonded the team into a cohesive unit with a collective goal.  It wasn’t just about the football. The players were female sporting ambassadors for Connemara and this did wonders for their self image and self esteem.  My fondest memory from the Connacht campaign was going to Mass in Tubbercurry.  The whole squad attended without exception.  Everyone, including the management was geared out in their brand new Sweeney Oil tracksuits.  The priest on duty, duly noted our presence and proceeded to talk about all the times he had played football against the Connemara Gaels in New York and how they were always formidable opponents.  He then wished us well and our prayers were answered later that day when we beat Geevagh in the Connacht Final.

Catherine:  Did ye go all the way and win the All Ireland?

Paul:  No, we blew it against the Munster champions, a team from Kerry called Abbeydorney.  It was almost the perfect weekend; we had a big travelling support, took the ferry across the Shannon from Foynes to Tarbert and pulled in for a light training session (I had contacted Tarbert GAA club earlier that week and they had very generously given us the full use of their fine facilities). On the morning of the match players and supporters alike were up fine and early walking the beach in Ballybunion, just below the hotel.  Everyone was happy, excited, nervous and full of anticipation, all at the same time.  There was a real sense of the Gráinne Mhaols extended family.  Socially, it had been a brilliant weekend.  To have gotten the right result would have made it the perfect weekend.

Catherine:  You said earlier that ye blew it.  Did ye dominate for most of the match?

Paul:  Not in the first half.  It was nip and tuck and the sides were level at half time.  We hit a real purple patch in the third quarter however, and with fifteen minutes to go found ourselves 4-3 to 1-4 ahead. It was a brilliant position to be in, having a lead of seemingly unassailable proportions, but when my team needed me most, I just buckled emotionally and physically.  The magnitude of what were on the verge of achieving just seemed to completely overwhelm me, and for the first time in the whole managerial experience, I found myself unable to cope.  My relative inexperience at that level came back to haunt me. I needed a well seasoned, knowledgeable and experienced co-manager or mentor to steer me safely through that final quarter but it wasn’t to be.  And, like my players, who had learned a few harsh lessons over the preceding two years in the playing sense, I learned my first real lesson that day.

It was my first major managerial reverse and it took me an awful long time to come to terms with it.  We had a chance to become the first ever Galway club to win an All Ireland Junior Championship and we’d blown it.  We knew that whoever won that semi final was going to win the final easily and Abbeydorney duly did.  The following year, they maintained their momentum and won the All Ireland Intermediate Championship at their first attempt, so I suppose they proved beyond all doubt that they were a serious outfit and for us there was certainly no disgrace in defeat.  To have won an All Ireland semi final in the Kingdom would have been the icing on the cake and I will always blame myself more than anyone else for the fact that we didn’t.

Catherine:  It must have been a scene of devastation afterwards.

Paul:  The players were inconsolable and there was many a bitter tear shed.  But we had to regroup quickly for the County Division 3 League final against Milltown the following Sunday.  In hindsight, it was the best medicine we could have taken; another important match, a new football experience to prepare for but we were vulnerable because we were hurting really bad after Kerry.  The following Tuesday, I had twenty-two players in attendance on the sand pitch in Letterfrack and we simply moved on.  I was never as proud of my players as on that particular Tuesday night when they put the heads down and went about their business in a focused and diligent manner, as if nothing had happened over the weekend.  We won that final and it gave everybody a huge lift.

Catherine: 2004  was a very special year for Lisa Coohill at inter county level.

 Paul: It was indeed and we were all so proud of her. To rise from total obscurity to a place on the victory podium in Croke Park on the fourth Sunday in September, in the manner and within the timeframe that she did, was an incredible achievement, but it came as no surprise back in West Connemara because we were well aware of Lisa’s international achievements in both athletics and soccer prior to her joining the Grainne Mhaols club. She is an elite sportswoman and an immensely talented footballer who has  overcome the adversity of two cruciate knee operations in the intervening years. Lisa played really well against the Dubs on that historic day at Headquarters in 2004 but my fondest recollection of her footballing prowess was in the much less glamourous setting of Breaffy GAA  Grounds six years later, when  she put in a magnificent performance against the Leitrim champions, St Patricks, Dromahair  in the 2010 Connacht Club Intermediate Championship Final, which we lost in controversial circumstances by a point.

Catherine:  So it took Grainne Mhaols a few years to make the jump from Intermediate to Senior.

Paul:  Yes, it certainly did. We made a big impact in our first year in Intermediate by reaching both county finals where we came face to face with Killannin.  We had come a long way in three years but not enough to win either of those matches.  2005 was Killannin’s year, and as I reflected on everything at the end of that season, I had seen enough to know that the jump from Intermediate to Senior was significantly more difficult than the jump from Junior B to Junior A and subsequently Junior A to Intermediate.  We had plateaued somewhat and I now knew that we were in for a much longer haul at intermediate level than we had experienced at junior level.  I also knew that, because of this, it would become much harder to retain the commitment, focus, resolve and enthusiasm of all the players.  There was now a big danger of stagnation within the one level over a long period of time.  I knew there was an onus on me to somehow reinvent the wheel and to think outside the box, in order to keep the Grainne Mhaols ship on course.  Some players started to fall away at this point because they didn’t fancy a long haul. It had now became clear that promotion to the highest level wasn’t going to happen overnight; we were going to suffer narrow defeats; patience and perseverance would be required and some players just weren’t up for it.

Catherine:  So did some players give up football at that point?

Paul:  Yes, some of the older players who had been great stalwarts during the preceding three years and had brought great maturity and solidity to the squad, now opted to retire, and their steady and guiding influence was sorely missed.  There was a sense of the club going through a bit of a transition.  We were no longer in the A grade at underage level, so I was conscious that the supply line of really talented players had dried up considerably, and this added to the challenge.  In 2006 we put in our worst ever championship performance since our foundation in the Intermediate championship semi final against Annaghdown.  Commitment had dropped significantly and this presented me with a major challenge, one I hadn’t encountered before.  The honeymoon period was well and truly over, and now I knew it was time to either bail out and take a new direction in my own sporting experience or else dig in with a view to reinventing the wheel.  So I chose the latter course, mainly because I and a core group of about ten players who were committed and ambitious and who basically just loved to play gaelic football for the club, regardless of the final outcome.  We still had a very impressive squad of players when they were all available together at the one time.  Thankfully, we had them all for the Intermediate League final against Milltown later that year and they put in an incredible performance on the day, scoring 8-9 in the process.

Catherine:  So were ye now a senior team in 2007?

Paul:  Just in the league.  To get up in the championship we had to win out the Intermediate and there were a few teams who were well bedded in at that level for a number of years so I knew it wouldn’t happen overnight.  Playing in Division 1 of the league really helped however and we qualified for the Intermediate Championship final that year after knocking out the favourites and 2006 Connacht Junior Championship winners, Tuam-Cortoon.  We were very confident going into the final of overturning Caherlistrane, but a catastrophic last ten minutes when we conceded five goals, clearly demonstrated that we were still a long way off senior standard.  When the pressure came on late on, we were found wanting on a number of different levels.  The whole thing collapsed like a house of cards.  It was a complete capitulation.

To concede eight goals in a county final was my worst nightmare.   We did have problems with morale within the squad, there were certain individuals who were not pulling together and this became all too evident in those final disastrous twelve minutes when heads dropped and players started blaming and criticising each other.  It was a new and totally unwelcome departure of the club and for the first time in my life, I felt powerless to intercede, i.e. I couldn’t reverse it as it had become a cauldron of sorts.  The Caherlistrane support heavily outnumbered our own as the match was played in Monivea, only down the road from them.  The Caherlistrane supporters, players and management could sense our disunity and they went for the kill.  I felt embarrassed and humiliated and ultimately responsible, because as far as I was concerned, the buck stopped with me and I had failed to adequately address the issues between certain players.

Catherine:  Was it the lowest point of your football experience?

Paul:  Standing there afterwards, listening to the post match speeches, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do on a football pitch.  Some of our players let the club down very badly that day with their post match behaviour.  It was definitely the lowest point of my experience with the club and the only time that I seriously considered walking away from it.  On a personal level, I was at a crisis point and it was the first time in the whole experience that I really doubted myself in terms of having the ability to get the club to senior.

Catherine:  That’s understandable in the circumstances, but you didn’t pack it in.

Paul:  No, I picked myself up and put it down to experience.  They say that a week is a long time in politics, but I discovered that the same could be said of sport.  Thankfully, we had entered the All Ireland Intermediate Sevens for the first time ever that year, had paid up the five hundred euro in advance (which was non refundable), and therefore had no option but to go to Dublin the following Saturday to compete.  I had a quiet word with a few of the more experienced players during the week and everybody did a little bit of soul searching which was all we could do in the circumstances.  The weekend finally arrived and we went up to fulfil our obligations with no expectation of making any meaningful impact.  What transpired however was one of the greatest days in the club’s history, a first ever national title after we won the Intermediate Shield.  I learned that day that things are often never quite as bad as they seem.  On a personal level, the Dublin success gave me my energy, self belief and self confidence back but more importantly, it taught the players who created history that day, the value of comradeship, respect, loyalty and discipline, basically everything that they had failed to demonstrate one week earlier in the county final.

Catherine:  It must be quite a complex thing at times, that whole area of interpersonal relations with your players, all the different personalities, trying to cope with the disappointment of defeat one day and celebrating the joy of success the next.

Paul:  Yes, it can all get very personal and emotional at times, almost larger than life in some respects.  To truly appreciate success and victory, you have to feel the raw and acute sense of pain and anguish that goes with the disappointment of defeat.  I wouldn’t change a thing and I’m thankful for every bad defeat that we suffered because it taught me to appreciate the joy of victory.  I always learned from it and it always kept both myself and my players grounded.  You’re only as good as your last game, yet on the other hand, redemption is only ever one game around the corner.  There’s nothing like a reality check to stop a team from losing the run of itself. The trick is, to be able to appreciate and understand why the defeat was incurred, to digest and analyse same, and to evolve a strategy designed to prevent a re-occurrence of same.

You always learn a lot more in defeat than in victory.  I’ve always been blessed in that I’ve never had the experience of being publicly chastised, criticised, castigated or aggressively challenged by players in relation to my tactical/selection decisions in a match.  Gráinne Mhaols players have always had far too much self respect to engage in same.  They might disagree privately with some of our management decisions, but there’s never been any recrimination because they understand the ethos upon which the club is built, and like the management, and the Executive Committee, they too want to protect their investment.  My players have always given me a platform to be forthright and frank when I need to be, and no one has ever taken anything I’ve said too personally.  I’ve had my ups and downs with certain individual players, but we’ve always got it sorted and made our peace, because at the end of the day, we understand that the club entity is much greater than any of us.  So, we do what’s in the best interest of our club, and not of ourselves.  I, in turn, have always given them an opportunity to express their opinion, I’ve always endeavoured to take on board their perspective, to see it from their point of view , to learn from them, and to cut them a bit of slack on occasion in training.  I also try to counterbalance constructive criticism with positive affirmation and of course, it’s always a personal challenge to refrain from negative comment, particularly if things are going pear shaped in an important match.

Catherine:  You mentioned the Connemara Representative team earlier.  How did it come about?  Was it something that the County Board came up with or was it down to the West Galway Sub-Committee?

Paul:  I came up with the idea myself while attending the 2007 All Ireland Ladies Football finals in Croke Park.  I was watching the Junior final between London and Antrim when it suddenly dawned on me that a Connemara team could easily hold their own against either of them.  We had more clubs than any of the counties who had junior status at inter-county level, Offaly, Wicklow, Carlow, Louth being the other four and we definitely had the talent, even without Lisa Coohill, Niamh Fahy (Killannin), Lorna Joyce (Clonbur), Claire Molloy (St Michaels) and Ann Marie McDonagh (Salthill-Knocknacarra), who were all with the Galway seniors and therefore ineligible for junior.

Catherine:  So how did you go about setting it up?

Paul:  I let my heart rule my head a bit to be honest and didn’t go about it in a politically correct manner.  Instead of contacting the County Secretary, I wrote directly to Geraldine Giles, the President of the Ladies Gaelic Football Association.  It was an inappropriate course of action but I knew the Executive would most likely perceive the proposal as being too radical and therefore a non-runner so I went over their heads a bit.  The West Galway Development Sub- Committee was fully behind the idea but the County Executive was less than enthusiastic, with some of them taking the view that it could be construed as being divisive.

Catherine:  They still allowed it to proceed, however.

Paul:  I wanted Connemara to be allowed play in Division 3 of the National League and also in the All Ireland Junior Championship but the County Board wouldn’t entertain this at all.  I did manage to persuade them to allow us to participate in the Connacht Junior Championship and there was great excitement and anticipation out west.  In many respects it was the final piece in our Sub-Committee’s developmental jigsaw.  I was appointed Manager of the team and asked Martina Cummins from St Michaels to co-manage with me.

Catherine:  Did ye hold trials and write to all the clubs to send players in?

Paul:  Yes, and we eventually established a panel of thirty five with all thirteen clubs being represented.  We trained initially at various locations, Westside, Killannin and Spiddal, but Clonbur eventually became our training base.  I took on the coaching responsibilities myself and it was so much easier than club sessions because I had all the best players and they were all so highly skilled, disciplined, motivated and focused.  All the drills and physical fitness routines went like clockwork, and in no time at all a great sense of unity, friendship and collective destiny had developed among the squad.  My brother Gerry, who runs Gannonsports  in Clifden sponsored a beautiful set of gear. Former Galway Senior and All Ireland Winner, Philomena Ni Fhlatharta from the Naomh Anna club in Leitir Móir, was appointed as team captain and she fitted the bill perfectly.

Catherine:  Did you get a sense from the players that they were really proud to be part of something so unique and special?

Paul:  Yes.  It was very powerful and we all bought into it.  Pride was at the heart of it, pride in Connemara and a steely determination to prove ourselves.  There was also a great sense of privilege because a development of this nature had never happened at adult level within men’s gaelic football.

Catherine:  Did ye play any warm up matches before the Connacht Championship began?

Paul:  Yes, our first match was against GMIT Galway under lights and it ended all square.  We beat Offaly and Longford and had a great battle with the Limerick Intermediates who beat us by five points, so by the time our first championship match came around, we were well ready.

Catherine:  Did all the Connacht counties participate and what about Galway?  Did Galway have two teams?

Paul:  Yes, Galway North-East entered a team, as did Leitrim and Roscommon but Mayo and Sligo didn’t, which was disappointing.  Roscommon’s inter county status was Intermediate but they were given permission by Connacht Council to use all their intermediates if they wanted to.  This, of course, gave them an unfair advantage, but they maintained that they’d stick to the spirit of the competition by using as many juniors as possible.

Catherine:  Was it a knock out competition or did every team play each other?

Paul:  It was round robin with the top two qualifying for the final.  We beat Galway NE in Tuam Stadium and overcame Leitrim in Oughterard.  By the time we played Roscommon in the final match at Oughterard, both teams had already qualified for the final so I gave all the substitutes a run out that day and we were comprehensively beaten.

Catherine:  Where was the final played?

Paul:  Tuam Stadium, and Roscommon were probably feeling a bit complacent.  The Connemara team that lined out against them that day was a totally different team to the one they had disposed of so easily two weeks previously.  Roscommon started with eleven Juniors and four Intermediates, but by half time they had nine Intermediates on the field.  We were 2-5 to 0-3 up after fifteen minutes and running away with it, so they had no option but to introduce all their big guns.  They eventually reeled us in and caught us with a late goal to win by three points.  It was a fantastic match and we had certainly played our part with Mairead Coyne (one of five Gráinne Mhaols players on the team) receiving the Player of the Match Award afterwards.

Catherine:  Do Connemara still play in the Connacht Junior Championship every year or was it just a once off?

Paul:  That match in Tuam turned out to be our finest hour and unfortunately, our last hour.  There was a lot of political fallout in the aftermath of the whole experiment.  The West Galway Development Association reaffirmed its desire for Connemara to continue and submitted a motion to the County Convention at the end of the year requesting that Connemara be allowed to participate in the Connacht Junior Championship each year.  I put the motion to the floor, secret ballot ensued and we lost the vote by 32 to 25.  It was the hardest meeting I have ever sat through in my life because the atmosphere was so tense and negative.  There was a certain degree of acrimony and bitterness and I have to accept some of the responsibility for that.  I was accused of being divisive and perceived in certain quarters as being unpatriotic and disloyal to the county.  I naively expected a lot of the north east clubs to abstain but they circled the wagons.  The most disappointing aspect of the night however was the non attendance of a number of clubs from the west.  We had failed to maximise our vote and suffered the consequences accordingly.

Catherine:  You must have gone through a bit of personal turmoil over the whole thing.

Paul:  Yes, I did at the time.  I passionately believed in the concept and felt let down by members of the County Executive who I considered to be friends and people of vision who could think outside the box.  I learned a harsh lesson however, that when it came to political boundaries and such like, there was no room for sentiment and definitely no vision.  Connemara would not be catered for as an autonomous entity in its own right and that was that.

Catherine:  Have you ever looked to manage any Galway teams in the intervening years.

Paul:  No, my inter county ambitions have never extended beyond bringing Connemara to an All Ireland Junior Championship final in Croke Park and possibly to an Intermediate final thereafter.  A lot of Galway  people might well laugh at the whole notion  but I make no apologies for it, and I’ll always have the satisfaction of knowing that Connemara would have undoubtedly have won an All Ireland Junior title in time, if given the opportunity. The plan was for Connemara Juniors and Galway Seniors to win All-Ireland titles in Croke Park on the same day with the Connemara Juniors also functioning as a feeder team to the Galway Seniors.

Catherine: Have many of those thirty five players graduated to the ranks of senior football with Galway over the last four years?

Paul: Grainne Mhaols captain Mairead Coyne is the only one, and her two highlights would have been the 2010 Division One League Final which Galway lost to Cork and the Connacht Final this year when they staged a Lazarus like comeback to beat Mayo in Castlebar. I couldn’t make it to McHale Park that day but one of the Galway management team rang me that evening to inform me that Mairead had carried out a superb marking job on Mayo’s Cora Staunton throughout the course of that match.

Catherine: Did you disengage completely from the Galway Ladies Football Board in the aftermath of that County Convention.

Paul: No, as I knew that such a course of action would only prove to be counterproductive in the long run. I was feeling a bit down but was also acutely aware that I still had a great club to go back to and some unfinished business to attend to in the County Intermediate Championship. So I refocused my energies on the female footballing requirements of West Connemara whilst simultaneously continuing to serve on the County Board as a Club Delegate and Fixtures Administrator. My most important contribution to the latter was to draw up a radical new plan for the administration of under 12 leagues and championships which was later adopted at a specially convened Club Forum and subsequently refined by our excellent Under 12 administrator, David Breslin.

Catherine: Just getting back for a minute to the ‘’unfinished business’’ that you referred to earlier. Did ye manage to take care of it successfully?

Paul: Yes, eventually, at the third attempt in 2010, when everything that we’d worked hard on at training clicked into gear and we comprehensively outplayed a really good Glenamaddy\Williamstown team who didn’t do themselves justice on the day. On a personal level, it was the culmination of all our collective efforts and energies of the preceding eight years. It was also the realisation of a dream and the ultimate reward for patience, perseverance, optimism and self belief.

Catherine: Did you do anything differently in terms of your management style or approach?

Paul: I did the official Peil na mBan Level One Coaching Course which reinvigourated my modus operandi on the training ground and this made a significant difference in the final analysis. The course itself was very demanding and challenging, both in its content and in its requirements, but it did constitute the ideal type of inservice for the likes of myself after so many years on the coalface of football education.

Our management team which comprised myself, Mary Young and John Francis Flaherty decided to freshen things up a small bit by bringing in Margaret Moroney on the physical fitness side. Margaret had a great rapport with all the girls. They were well aware of her remarkable achievements in athletics and had huge respect and regard for the level of knowledge and professionalism that she brought to the training.  Kilconly native and Letterfrack based Garda, Ronan Steede also took a couple of technical sessions which were very beneficial.  Ronan had coached and managed the male footballers of  GMIT Letterfrack to an All-Ireland title in 2009 so the girls were also well aware of his pedigree.

The other major improvement that year was in the psychological stakes, when our adult footballers finally developed an ability to claw back big deficits during the course of important matches. This was really borne out in Letterfrack in the round robin phase of the Intermediate Championship earlier that year, when Grainne Mhaols  scored 1-3 without reply in the final ten minutes to edge out Glenamaddy\Williamstown by 4-11 to 5-7. During the ensuing weeks, Glenamaddy/Williamstown and Milltown would require a double replay to sort out who our opponents would be in the county final and this afforded myself and John Francis not one but three opportunities to familiarise ourselves with the  relative strengths and weaknesses of the two protagonists. This  definitely helped us in our preparations.

While the North Galway saga was being played out over a period of about five weeks, we trained quietly and diligently in Letterfrack. We had an unexpected visitor one Thursday evening in the shape of Knockmore, St Jarlaths and Mayo legend,  Kevin O Neill who was holidaying nearby in Rosleague Manor Hotel. He arrived on site with a bag of footballs for a bit of freetaking practice ahead of an important senior championship match the following Sunday. I introduced him to the girls, filled him in on where we were at and he proceeded to give them some words of wisdom and encouragement ahead of their big day. As the training intensified and the momentum gathered, I could see that a collective sense of destiny and entitlement was building up within the squad as they seemed to take complete ownership of the task that lay ahead.  By the time the county final itself came around, I knew that the team was much more mature than in 2005 or 2007 and this was borne out in its level of performance on the day.

Catherine: How did the Connacht Championship campaign go for ye after that? You mentioned the final earlier when you were talking about Lisa.

Paul: We travelled to Dr Hyde Park in Roscommon for the semi final and put in another fine performance against Castlerea St Kevins to book our place in the final. We were now just one win away from becoming the first Galway club in history to win provincial titles at junior and intermediate level but ultimately that honour was destined for the Caltra-Cuans club one year later. It was a very entertaining and exciting final played in very difficult underfoot conditions at Breaffy and we had enough chances to win it but didn’t avail of them and paid the price. The Mayo referee was heavily critisised afterwards re time management issues at the end, but he wasn’t the reason that we missed out on an All-Ireland Quarter Final against the London Senior champions, Parnells.

Catherine: How did ye’re maiden voyage in the 2011 County Senior Championship go?

Paul: We put up a creditable performance at home against eventual champions St Brendans before eventually going down by seven points .The real drama however, was reserved for our second group match away to Clonbur when we managed to translate a twelve point deficit into a two point win. St Brendans’ subsequent victory over Clonbur in the final group match confirmed our place in one of the semi finals against the reigning champions Corofin. The match was played in Oughterard and we were outclassed by far superior opponents who had sixteen points to spare in the finish.

Catherine: Do you ever see the day when Grainne Mhaols will contest the County Senior Championship Final?

Paul: I think it’s possible, but the main priority for me going forward is that we retain our senior status each year. I want our underage footballers of the future to never know anything other than senior level after they graduate into adult football. Grainne Mhaols were relegated to Division Two league football in 2011 and this represents a major setback which we hope to address this year by reaching the final and achieving promotion in the process.

Catherine: Apart from the football, what do you consider to be Grainne Mhaols greatest achievement over the past eleven years?

Paul: Well, I’ve often heard it said that ‘’the greatness is in the longevity’’, so to answer your question, it is probably the fact that we are still here in existence, alive and kicking, and looking forward to bigger and better things for the female footballers of West Connemara. My daughter Amy was only six months old when I founded the club and she now plays on our U11 and U12 teams. She loves her football and is proud to represent her club, as are all of her teammates. Many adult personnel have come and gone in the intervening years and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all for their contribution, be it on the training ground or in the boardroom. My aspiration going forward is that our club will attract people of sincerity, honesty and integrity, who believe in our product and what we represent, who espouse a spirit of selflessness and volunteerism and above all, who treasure the ethos upon which our club has evolved and prospered.

Catherine: Where do the greatest challenges lie in terms of sustainability?

Paul: Fundraising and coaching are undoubtedly the top two. Keeping our head above water financially has never been more challenging and in that regard I’d like to thank all the people and clubs who continue to support our monthly draw and other initiatives such as table quizzes, the annual church gate collection in July, bag packing in Supervalu and Gaelic Telecom. The Connemara Darts Association deserves a special mention also and Grainne Mhaols LGFA is both proud of the part that we played in reviving the sport of darts and thankful for the revenues received therein. A few years ago, we ran a  successful  ‘’Who Wants To Be A Thousandaire’’ event  with Na Fianna Rua OHC  which was supported by a good number of West Connemara businesses. Sponsorship has also played a big part in our financial affairs over the years and in this regard, I’d like to thank John Sweeney ( Sweeney Oil), John Wallace Bushire, Peter Keane Aerial Services, Brodericks Electrical, Jimmy Gibbons (Clifden Laundrette), Mary Young (K2), Albert Conneely (Taxi Service), Heanue and Conneely Building Services, Noel and Becky Walsh (Clifden Tyre Centre), Chris and Bridget Shanahan (Clifden Service Station), Jackie Dowd (Siopa Dowd, Carna), David Griffin (Griffins Bar, Clifden), Josie Conneely (JCs, Clifden)  and Gerry Gannon (Gannonsport, Clifden ) for their valuable contributions over the years. There was also one other very generous sponsor who wishes to remain anonymous.

Catherine: Is fundraising a tougher challenge than coaching?

Paul: No Catherine, and it doesn’t even come close. Coaching is the ultimate challenge in any gaelic football club and presents Grainne Mhaols with its greatest problem going forward. We simply don’t have any qualified coaches and need to address it expediently because we won’t hold onto our players (particularly in their mid-teens) if we don’t. We presently have eight adults lined up to do the LGFA Foundation Level Course this Summer and hopefully some of them will push on and complete the Level One also.

Catherine: Well Paul, it’s been an interesting and informative journey and I’m sure there will be many more twists and turns along the way. In any case, I hope the journey is a neverending one, because our young girls need positive and progressive sporting outlets every bit as much as the boys, so all I say by way of winding up our conversation is, thanks for your time and the very best of luck to Grainne Mhaols LGFA  in all of its  endeavours into the future.

Paul: Thanks Catherine, for taking an interest. It is very much appreciated.

 Catherine Pryce, freelance journalist, writer and former News and Sports Editor of The Connemara View, is a native  of the town of Clifden in West Connemara