Connemara Footballing Legend Opens A New Chapter In Her Epic Story

Connemara ladies footballer Maura Cloherty is one of the exceptions to the rule. While many young females from all sporting disciplines are lost to the demon drink and other less nefarious distractions around their mid to late teens, this long serving Gael has proved to a role model in her chosen sporting field. In Tuam Stadium this Saturday evening, 44-year-old Cloherty will don the Connemara jersey as the Gaeltacht side face Roscommon in the Connacht junior ladies football decider. It will be a remarkable achievement, particularly given Cloherty first made her appearance on the inter-county stage as a 14-year-old for the Galway juniors way back in 1978.

No doubt, Cloherty is one of the unsung heroes of ladies football in the county. Having begun her football career with Maighnis NS in the early ‘70s, Cloherty dabbled a little further with Carna ladies club in the late ‘70s. However, by the mid 80s, Cloherty had drifted away from the game, having married and settled down with two daughters, Maura and Barbara. It was not until she observed a brief article in the sports section of The Connacht Tribune seeking players to affiliate to a ladies football club in Ballinasloe that the old passion and fire were rekindled. “I didn’t get back into it again until 1990, when I started to play with St. Grellan’s in Ballinasloe. I used to travel to Ballinasloe from Carna. When I think of the commitment, it was a two-hour drive to Ballinasloe for training, it was daft.”

Still, those trips were eventually worth it, with Cloherty, playing at right-half back, claiming both county and Connacht titles.

“I spent three years with Grellan’s,” continues the Connemara woman, who also served as Galway captain for two years during this decade. “A few of girls from Leitir Mór and Indreabhán were with me, so we decided one day on the way home from training that we would form a club in Leitir Mór. That was 1994.

“We did that and we won the County Senior Championship in ’94. I was captain that year. We won it again in ’95. The game was beginning to grow by this stage with more new clubs coming on board.” However, Cloherty soon got “itchy feet” again and she decided to help set up another ladies football club in her own parish of Carna in the late ‘90s. She played junior with them and while she subsequently lost a County Junior Championship Final against Killererin, there was some measure of consolation when her side reversed the result in the League final. Indeed, of the 2-4 scored that day, Cloherty, now operating at full-forward, scored 2-3. Over the next number of years she continued to play, and even togged out for a period with Salthill, before sowing her sporting seeds back in the heartland of Connemara approximately five years ago.“I was semi-retired, but then I went back to Carna one evening and Grainne Mhaols were playing there. I got talking to Paul Gannon and he asked me to come on board. I haven’t looked back since.”

With Grainne Mhaols, Cloherty added to her growing medal collection. In addition to winning both County Junior B League and Championship and County Junior A League and Championship silverware with the West Connemara club, she also secured a Connacht Junior Club title to add to the Connacht Senior title that she won with St Grellans twenty four years previously.“Grainne Mhaols also won the County Intermediate League two years ago  but not the championship yet. Hopefully this year. It is the only county  championship medal that has eluded me so far,” outlines the Grainne Mhaols corner forward.

While she is pretty focused on her goal of securing that elusive club medal, Cloherty has also found herself in the unlikely position of chasing an accolade of another kind with Connemara this Saturday. With the establishment of Connemara as an ‘inter-county’ side earlier this year, Cloherty asked could she go and partake in the training. Even though the management team had no objections, little did Cloherty think she would secure a starting place in the side.

“I went training with Connemara to keep fit. When you get to my age, you have to keep training, training, training. They were stuck one day, though, down at a challenge match in Limerick and Paul asked me to go in goal. So that was how it started.”With wins over Leitrim and North-East Galway, Connemara had already qualified for the provincial decider before they faced Roscommon in their final round-robin game. Although Connemara were comprehensively defeated in that tie, there was a great deal of shadow boxing on the day. In other words, Cloherty is hoping for a different result come Saturday.’’All the homework is done by Paul (Gannon) and Martina (Cummins) and they have kept us focused. So, it is up to us now. Whoever is the hungriest on the day is going to win the Connacht title. We are well up for it.”

While some may find it remarkable that a footballer with a 30-year involvement in the game continues to compete at such a high level, Cloherty, who works in Siopa Dowd in Carna, says it is all down to positive thinking and healthy living.

“I never drank or smoked. I think, also, if you eat healthy that will stand to you. I also do a lot of walking and cycling. It is also about positive thinking, no matter what you do.”With so many youngsters, particularly in female sports, being lost to their chosen disciplines, Cloherty believes one of the underlining reasons for this mass exodus is alcohol abuse.’’It is the drink. I am sorry, but it is. I can see even back our own way. They are doing fine until they start going out in their mid-teens. If you can keep these girls on track until they are nineteen, you have a chance.”

Although Cloherty has given so much to ladies football over the years ( she has coached youngsters, served as County Board Secretary, was a Central Council delegate, and umpired at an All-Ireland junior final in Croke Park) she also believes she has reaped in equal measures the pleasures and joys of the sport.

She tells an interesting story. “I was thinking recently that it is amazing the things you were told when you were growing up. One incident in particular really stands out.’’ We were training for the schools’ football final at Maighnis when the music teacher came to the school so the girls were all told to go to his class. Our teacher, Maureen Curran, God rest her soul, allowed the lads can stay out because they were training for the match on Sunday so naturally enough I stubbornly followed suit and  was thrown out of the music class. When I told my Dad later on that day that I had been thrown out of the music class because of the football he simply smiled and said, ‘‘Maura, you will get more out of football yet than you will get out of music.’’ He was right.‘ By the way, the music teacher took me back into her class and we won the match, so everything worked out all right in the end. I played in that final against Carna NS and there were two other girls on the team with me.

When it comes to ladies football, Cloherty has few regrets. As she would admit herself, it is the stubborn streak in her. “On Sunday, the day after the Connacht final, we are playing Milltown in the County Intermediate Championship at 12 o’clock.“That is the medal I am waiting for, the one to complete the collection. I am saying every year, ‘I will give it up, I will give it up’. That said, I bought a new pair of boots last year, so I don’t know.”By the sounds of it, one suspects this great Gael will be lacing footwear for some time to come.

 Written by Stephen Glennon

Connacht Tribune July 9th 2008

Maire Cloherty pictured with Galway Senior starlets Lorna Joyce and Sinead Burke at the Connemara Junior Squad Awards Night in the Connemara Gateway Hotel, Oughterard
Maire Cloherty pictured with Galway Senior starlets Lorna Joyce and Sinead Burke at the Connemara Junior Squad Awards Night in the Connemara Gateway Hotel, Oughterard