In Thermopylae, the Greek king Leonidas had 300 warriors. In Castlehaven, they will have to contend with 120.
Marie Buckley, the chairperson of the recently formed Castlehaven GAA Ladies Club, can’t get over the response to a call for ladies to join up.
‘We decided in June 2013 to form the club because we had participated in a very successful Gaelic 4 Girls programme and, judging from the overwhelming level of interest, we knew we were onto a winner.’
The Castlehaven Ladies Club recently won its first cup when the Under 10 girls beat Skibbereen in the final of the Eilish Collins Memorial Blitz.
‘It was special because Eilish was one of our own and was passionate about football, but never got to play for her parish,’ said Tina Browne, who is the club’s assistant chairperson.
‘Eilish passed away two years ago in May 2013 so there was a real sense of synchronicity because our girls took part in the Gaelic 4 Girls programme in April and the club was formed in June.
‘The win was our tribute to Eilish, who was a very special young lady and her parents, John Joe and Cathleen Collins, were overjoyed to be there in Moneyvolihane to present the cup to the captain, Claire O’Mahony.
‘In our first year,’ Linda O’Donovan, the club’s assistant secretary, said, ‘we only played competitively up to under 12 because the programme was specifically aimed at girls who had never played football before.
‘It was designed to be an introduction to football and it was capped at 13 and under. So, in that first year that we had 54 girls, from the ages of 6 to 12, registered.’
‘The interesting thing about that first year,’ according to Marie, ‘is that we had to prove ourselves. A lot of local girls, aged 13 to 18, were playing with other local clubs. They had to be convinced that the training would be good and that there would be experienced trainers in place.
‘We were very lucky that Dinny Cahalane, a former senior football player with the club, as well as Finbarr Santry, who had managed the club to a county senior title, and Brian Hourihane, who is also very experienced, came on board.
‘The girls wouldn’t have joined if the training was down to me,’ said Marie. ‘They are serious about their sport and would only commit if they could be tested in the same way as the boys.’
On the night of November 25th 2014 – Tina recalls a ‘dry, cold’ night – the three women piled into Marie’s car and began their quest.
‘We had compiled a list of potential players and systematically set about calling to each and every one of them – a list of 30. By the end of the night, we had 50.
‘At first,’ Tina said, ‘we got a dubious response at the doors, but that was only because they thought we were selling something. When they heard that we were determined to get a good ladies club together we found we were pushing an open door.’
On Friday, January 23rd 2015, the Castlehaven Ladies Club held its registration night and 100 young women signed on the dotted line.
Since then the club has gained another 20 experienced players – all of whom have been won over by the ‘the ethos, the heart and the passion’ of the club, according to Linda.
She said: ‘We were fortunate to be able to use the excellent GAA facilities in Castlehaven and Union Hall.’
Regular and rigorous training sessions were established. From the start, it went well. The girls were divided into their appropriate age groups, each of which had at least three coaches, and they trained every Wednesday evening and Saturday morning.
Marie outlined the value of the club – not just in terms of the health and vitality it promotes – but also the enduring friendships that have been formed, and how it has helped the girls’ confidence and personal development.
Today, the Castlehaven Ladies Club has seven teams. In addition to the most recent blitz win, the club has an under 16 team in the county semi-final, and an under 14 team in an upcoming West Cork semi-final. The club also participated in the Passage West under 8 and under 10 All-Ireland blitz and did extremely well.
Tina said: ‘West Cork’s newest Ladies club owes a debt of gratitude to the volunteer coaches, the members of the committee, the parents, and everyone in the parish who has given freely of their time.
‘The Senior Club and the Juvenile Boys Club were also very supportive. Because we were inexperienced we rang them more times than we’d care to mention, but they never tired of us. They were very encouraging. More than that ... they welcomed us.’