Caroline Hickey and John Ryan of the Limerick ladies junior football team accept the award from Mary O'Riordan, Southern, Elaine Ryan, Clayton hotel and Eugene Phelan, editor, Limerick Leader
“PEOPLE will tell you it’s only cement and steel but still, when you run out under the stand, it’s a big deal - it’s where everybody wants to be.”
Limerick ladies football manager John Ryan was, of course, speaking about the hallowed turf of Croke Park where, just last month, his charges ran out impressive winners of the TG4 All-Ireland Junior Ladies Football Championship.
The final scoreline of Limerick 5-6, Louth 0-8 reflected the huge performance put in by the women in green, and, this Monday, they were presented with the Limerick Person of the Month award for their Trojan efforts.
“It’s fantastic for everybody. We are accepting this today for the players, the management and the whole lot. There is a buzz around the county,” said John Ryan who took over the management of the team in January of this year.
It was a second memorable day in Croke Park this autumn for Limerick GAA fans following the hurlers’ sweet All-Ireland victory in August.
“The hurlers set the ball rolling on August 19 and we picked it up from there. Going into our All-Ireland we took positivity from the hurlers’ win,” John continued.
“The hurlers inspired us after breaking the 45-year wait. It’s a great year for Limerick and ladies football is building every year,” added player Caroline Hickey.
According to the Donoughmore native, sticking to the game plan was key to their success. “We were confident in ourselves even though we were going in as underdogs - Louth had beaten us twice in the league. We had our homework done on them. We had a game plan going in and we just stuck to that game plan. We scored five goals and that’s the most we have scored in championship,” Caroline continued.
“I think it was belief more than anything including going to the pitch on the Saturday evening beforehand.”
The team travelled to Croke Park on the Saturday prior to the big game to ensure the players weren’t daunted by their surroundings come match day.
“We wanted to get the girls focused,” said John who is living in Cratloe but is originally from Bulgaden. “Even when you drive into Croke Park - it’s a daunting place to be. People will tell you it’s only cement and steel but still when you run out under the stand, it’s a big deal and it’s where everybody wants to be.”
According to Caroline, when the final whistle blew “it was surreal but absolutely fantastic”.
“The cup is booked out until Christmas,” she smiled.
“Both cups are working together. I brought it back to my primary school, Donoughmore National School, last Friday. And I’ve taken it to Caherline National School where I teach third and fourth class. It’s brilliant just to see the children’s faces light up. That’s what it’s about. We want to encourage more girls and obviously the lads to keep on playing GAA.”
The players range in age from 18 to early 30s with the overall average being in the early 20s. They train on Tuesday and Friday with a match at weekends and training sometimes at weekends as well. Some of the girls do their gym sessions in their own time.
“This is a young side and the one thing about these players is their commitment level is massive and they seem to die to play ladies football, and once you have that you have a great start. I couldn’t speak highly enough of the girls. They were excellent this season,” said John.
“Our base is in Banogue GAA club. We must thank them - it’s right in the centre of the county. We’ve players coming from Cork and it’s ideal because they don’t have to go into the city.”
The team also did five sessions in the Gaelic Grounds before the final which they feel really stood to them, in terms of playing on a wide pitch.
“We would like to thank Limerick County Board because giving us the Gaelic Grounds to train in was a massive positive for us. We were togging out in the same dressing room as the Limerick senior hurlers so everything they were doing, we were doing, so we have to thank county secretary Mike O’Riordan and the county board and the Woodlands House Hotel, our sponsors, who have been excellent.”
The team now makes the step up into intermediate level but the long-term ambition is to play senior.
“Our target down the road, and I think it should be the target of all the clubs in Limerick, is this team will play senior football in a number of years. With the underage coming through and with the players we have looked at throughout the championship around Limerick, definitely there is that hope,” said John.
The Limerick Person of the Month award is jointly sponsored by the Limerick Leader, media agency Southern, and the Clayton Hotel.