KIERAN McCARTHY spoke with Anne O’Grady about all things ladies’ football
‘LADIES football needs more women like Anne O’Grady,’ insists Brian McCarthy, manager of the West Cork senior ladies divisional team.
He knows better than most the Bantry woman’s worth.
In 2016, one of the first calls he made after becoming manager of the newly-formed senior divisional team was to O’Grady, asking her to come on board as a selector. She did.
This past winter, after two seasons and two county semi-final defeats, McCarthy was weighing up his options and considered stepping back from the set-up – but O’Grady was having none of it. The end result: McCarthy’s still in charge.
‘She knows the West Cork ladies’ scene and the county ladies’ scene inside out, her knowledge is second to none and on top of that, she has a great football brain, she knows the game,’ McCarthy pointed out.
Seven years ago, O’Grady found herself back home in Bantry after four years in college in Cork.
She was looking for something to do to keep herself occupied in the evenings – and Philly Spillane spotted an opportunity.
O’Grady had played football with Bantry Blues ladies, and still does, and at the club AGM that year, Spillane asked her to come on board with him coaching the minor ladies. She did.
At the time, the U16 girls were without a coach – and she stepped in there too.
Seven years on, O’Grady now coaches the Bantry ladies’ U15s and U16s and is involved in coaching the minors with Spillane, as well as being the ladies’ club secretary since that AGM.
‘I always had a huge interest in football and in the coaching side,’ the Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí maths and Irish teacher explained.
‘Coaching has always appealed to me.
‘I had a few coaching courses done, I got stuck in with Bantry and before I knew it, I was in with the Cork U14s with Charlie McLoughlin and Noel Twomey for a year and then with the U15 development set-up with West Cork.’
It wasn’t long before word of O’Grady spread and both Cork minor ladies manager John Cleary and West Cork ladies boss Brian McCarthy both came calling, wanting her to get involved.
‘I’m involved in a lot of different set-ups in different capacities,’ she explained.
‘In some I am very involved in the coaching like with Bantry, with West Cork it’s more on the administration side of it as well as a selector, and with the county it’s a selector. It’s good to have that variety because it’s not the same thing over and over again.’
Serving her apprenticeship under the guidance of a football brain like Cleary has helped O’Grady’s growth and development as a coach, and she’s soaking up as much information as she can from everyone she works with, name-checking Cleary, McCarthy, Denis Enright, Ger Finn, Philly Spillane.
‘Everyone has their own bit to give,’ she says, and managing at the top levels – whether that’s Bantry’s senior ladies, the West Cork senior ladies or at county level – does interest her.
‘I’m ambitious and being a manager at a high level is something that I have my sights set on at some point,’ she says.
‘Right now, I am trying out all the different roles and learning about them, but it would be an honour to become a manager at the higher levels, be it my own club Bantry, the West Cork divisional team that I have huge time for or even at county level down the line.’
She’s certainly on the right path, and while she still plays football for Bantry, and has done since her late teens, coaching is number one.
‘Coaching is the direction I want to head in so that gets my priority. I want to learn, I want to coach and I want to get as much experience as I can,’ she said.
At the recent Women in Sport, The Next Chapter event held in Croke Park, Liberty Insurance unveiled details of a survey that highlighted that more men (43 per cent) than women (30 per cent) support women’s sport in Ireland.
Those numbers aren’t a surprise, and while more women are starting to support women’s sports, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
It’s the same on the coaching side of GAA, as O’Grady explains.
‘It’s something that has disappointed me over the years that a lot of the time I would tend to be the only woman involved on the management side of things and that more women don’t put themselves forward for these roles, do a coaching course maybe and just get involved,’ she said.
‘I do think that the girls like having a woman involved because they can relate to her and they will appreciate too that she knows her football and what’s going on.
‘The general support is increasing, we can see that, but it would be nice to see more women getting involved in the coaching side. We’re lucky with the Cork minors this year that Valerie Mulcahy has got involved, and Theresa Meaney does fantastic work as well.
‘Even in Bantry we have been trying to get the senior girls to get involved with the younger ones because they are their role models.
‘In fairness, a lot of women get involved in the administration side of the game and do fantastic work, but little enough are involved in the coaching side so it would be great to get a few more involved – and I’d love for more to come on board because it’s very rewarding.’
Emma Spillane is Bantry Blues’ All-Star ladies footballer, the jewel in the crown. In her second season with the Cork seniors, the UCC student has the potential and ability to become a mainstay for the Rebels for the next decade.
O’Grady has coached Spillane since she was just 13 years old, and the Cork star doesn’t hesitate in saying that Bantry Blues ladies club wouldn’t be where it is today without O’Grady.
‘She’s coached teams in the school (Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí) since it opened and without her we probably wouldn’t have had any trainer. She coached us to win county and Munster titles in my six years there,’ Spillane said.
‘On a personal note, she’s been great to me, whether she was training me or if I was helping her train a team, she’d always push me to do my best, she would travel the length and breadth of the country for us.’
O’Grady also organises the club’s Peil camps at Easter and summer more or less on her own, Spillane pointed out, raising funds for the club.
In the last few years, O’Grady has had a front row seat as West Cork ladies football has grown stronger and stronger. There has been the success of the clubs, Bantry Blues and Kinsale who have won county and Munster titles and contested All-Ireland finals, the West Cork divisional team has contested the last two county senior semi-finals, while the region supplies several big names to the county senior team, like Orla Finn, Martina O’Brien, Emma Spillane, Áine Terry O’Sullivan and Melissa Duggan.
These are good times for West Cork ladies football.
‘It has all helped raise the profile of ladies football in West Cork and we have seen the growth of the game – Castlehaven have come back into it, St Colum’s have reformed and there are more girls now playing football than before,’ O’Grady pointed out.
‘There is a lot of coaching work gone in an underage level and that will have its benefits,’
‘A lot of development work has gone on too, there has been an U13 and an U15 development programme for the last two years and you can see that making a difference when the girls go for county trials.
‘A lot of the younger girls will look up to the star names as role models and they will want to follow in their footsteps. We had Nollaig Cleary for so many years and now we have someone like Orla Finn, and young girls want to be like them. Success breeds success.’
And while she might not realise, off the field Anne O’Grady is helping West Cork ladies football make giant strides, too.