On a cold, damp, dark Monday evening on February 18th 2002, fourteen girls from West Connemara gathered on the sand pitch of the Connemara Rugby Club to commence the first ever training session of the Gráinne Mhaols Junior B team. That night, with sand invading the nostrils, lungs screaming for oxygen and heavy limbs desperately trying to finish laps, the notion of championship glory wasn’t even a thought that would have entered our minds. As days spread to weeks and weeks to fortnights, six more joined for training, then another few joined and so on, until eventually forty-one girls were competing for places on the Gráinne Mhaols Junior B team. This competition for places and the depth of the squad meant that the team got stronger and more skilful, more competitive and more eager to win.
All the hard work finally came to fruition on Sunday October 27th when Gráinne Mhaols, at the first time of asking won the County Junior B Championship Final, beating Milltown in a match that will live forever in the annals of the club. Championship glory isn’t easily achieved. It was a hard, tough game played at St Furseys LGFA Club in Headford. Milltown have more experience at this level, and for the first half of the match they dominated and had us very much on the back foot, desperately trying to make an impact. However, in the second half Gráinne Mhaols raised the bar considerably and in the last ten minutes proved that the cup deserved to have a home for the year, on a shelf in West Connemara. Hard work, determination and a never say die attitude snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Captain Geraldine McTavish, goalkeeper Maura Cloherty and Lisa Coohill were just three of the players who had outstanding performances on the day. Lisa Coohill was probably the crucial difference between the two teams in the end. She was duly rewarded with a place on the Galway Junior team in the following weeks. The trip home from Headford after the final took a little longer than normal, as the cup had to be brought to each of the areas that the team is drawn from. Winning the County Junior B Championship title means that the Gráinne Mhaols will be playing at Junior A level next year. It was a proud day, one that we will never forget.
You could say the Gráinne Mhaols Junior B team is a family affair as there are five different sets of sisters, cousins, aunts and nieces all involved. There is also a mother and daughter playing on the team, which is something of a rarity. The makeup of the team takes in girls from Carna, Cashel, Ballyconneely, Roundstone, Clifden, Kingstown, Moyard, Letterfrack, Renvyle and Leenane. There is quite a range of ages; the youngest is twelve while some of the older players are nearly three times that. Eight of the players who have made the Junior B squad also play on the under fourteen team. The experience and the youth makes for a good mix within the team. For a lot of those we’ll call experienced, the opportunity to play football again has been fantastic. Some of us had not kicked a ball in anger since our primary school days. However those skills, learned at National School were only in hibernation, and they sprouted, strengthened and flourished with all the regular training.
At the time of writing, Gráinne Mhaols are still in training two nights a week on the sand pitch at the Connemara West complex, as they have one other game to play. We will be playing in the County Junior B League Final against Glenamaddy on Saturday December 28th and we hope to finish the year off by doing the double. In conclusion, we would encourage anyone who is interested in gaelic football to get involved. Areas like Cleggan and Recess still need representation! To be part of a team is fantastic. New friendships have been formed which will always be strong, and the links between the different areas from Carna to Renvyle and Leenane to Roundstone have also been strengthened. Being part of the Gráinne Mhaols organisation is not just about playing a game of gaelic football; it’s a way of life.
Written by Lucy Lydon and Linda O’Malley