TOM LYONS reflects on a memorable day as Ahamilla rolled out the red carpet for a senior inter-county game
ONE eye on the weather forecast, the Infant de Prague statue on the windowsill and a silent prayer offered up at Mass that the day would clear up.
Saturday had promised the start of summer, but Sunday morning dawned misty and grey. You can’t plan anything in Ireland with our contrary weather but a fine day can definitely make or break any event like the first-ever inter-county ladies football championship game being played in Clonakilty on Sunday.
Thankfully, the prayers were answered as the day cleared, bar the strong breeze. By the time the kids swarmed on the pitch for autographs and photographs following Cork’s Munster LGFA victory against Waterford, the sun was beaming down.
‘We were so lucky with the weather,’ said an exhausted but delighted Yvonne Ryan, chairperson of the Clonakilty ladies football club.
The crowds were already gathering in Ahamilla when we arrived an hour before the 2pm throw-in. The first steward we encountered was chairman of the GAA club, Denis O’Sullivan, directing traffic at the main gate, showing that it’s all hands to the wheel on a day like this, no rank being pulled.
‘The Munster stewards are checking the tickets inside and also taking cash. All our lads and lassies are manning everything else. We’re lucky to be able to use the extra playing pitches for parking,’ O’Sullivan explained.
At a club meeting the previous Monday night concern had been expressed about the parking and the soft ground following heavy rain. So much so, that it was decided to close the main pitch for the week to have the surface in perfect order for the game and the immaculate condition of the pitch on Sunday proved that decision to be a good one.
The atmosphere inside the grounds was building nicely, both teams on the side pitches warming up, the chip van already doing business. Not taking cash at gates has been a controversial issue of late but to their credit, the Munster LGFA were taking cash on Sunday and it showed that both systems, pre-booked tickets and cash, can be worked together.
‘West Cork has been doing tremendous work in promoting ladies football and it was an easy decision to bring this game to Clonakilty today,’ said Munster LGFA President Robbie Smyth, who was in charge of arrangements on the day.
‘The marvellous buzz here in Clon and the size of the crowd, the largest we have had at a Munster game this season, including the Cork v Kerry game the previous Sunday, proved the decision was the correct one.’ The three flags flying high in the strong breeze at the entrance to the pavilion, the lush green of the main pitch, the sideline flags waving, the crowd mingling on the steps, the buzz of conversation all round as friends met friends, all contributed to the atmosphere building up before the big game began.
The covered stand was filling up fast as throw-in time approached and, although there was no official figure given, local experts put the crowd at about 1,200 at least. Bringing the game to the supporters in West Cork rather than the other way round was a great idea and we met supporters from many local clubs. Emer Cleary of the famed Castlehaven clan was delighted as it enabled her mother, into her 90s, to make the trip to watch her two grand-daughters playing. As it turned out, one, Orlaith Cahalane, replaced the other, Emma Cleary, who was injured. Special arrangements had also been made to enable the grandmother of the Kiely sisters from Valley Rovers to watch the game from her car. Such was the planning that had gone into the occasion behind the scene.
Getting the pitch ready was the duty of groundsman John Collins, who had to postpone the spreading of sand owing to the match and the wet weather. He was busy stewarding the car park all day but could take a well-earned bow at the end of the day.
While many would expect the local club to get a cut from the gate receipts to cover expenses, such is not the case with the Munster LGFA and the club can only hope for a donation. To make money and meet expenses on the day the club had organised a club shop under the careful control of Eileen Collins, whose husband, Michael, the well-known referee, was busy on stewarding duties. Manning the club lotto table were Aileen Collins, Mags Daly and Fachtna McCarthy but the simple programme distributed free of charge by Munster could, perhaps, have been turned into a souvenir booklet for this historic occasion if left in the hands of the local club. A suggestion for the future.
The familiar voice of Seán Ó Briain on the MC system boomed out with the teams – two changes for Cork – and Scór Munster champion Isabella Moore from Carbery Rangers had the honour of singing Amhrán na bhFiann. Soon, all attention was on the pitch and the action as Noel Calnan made sure he had the right score on the scoreboard.
Half time saw the young girls getting the chance to shine in front of a large crowd as kids from the host club Clonakilty, and from West Cork clubs with players involved in the senior game – Kinsale, Dohenys, St Colum’s and O’Donovan Rossa – played mini-games. Under the careful eyes of their mentors they showed all the enthusiasm of eight year olds, really enjoyed by the crowd.
Game over, Cork victorious 2-10 to 0-4 after a hard battle in the second half and the crowd and kids obligingly staying off the pitch until the teams had warmed down. Then the photos and autographs as the Cork players lingered long on the pitch afterwards, among families, friends and admirers.
‘This is marvellous and just what ladies football needs,’ said Libby Coppinger of St Colum’s. ‘We’ve had our differences over fixtures clashing for dual players but the Munster LGFA got it right by fixing this game here in Clonakilty. The atmosphere is fantastic, the players are delighted and the players love it. It’s great to be playing for your own people here in West Cork.’
Orlaith Cahalane of the famed Haven clan had started instead of her cousin Emma Cleary, performing exceptionally well.
‘There are so many West Cork players involved that it was only right to play the game here in Clon. Great atmosphere, perfect pitch, everything top class and great support from the crowd. The players loved it and want more of the same,’ Orlaith said. Her dad, Niall, wasn’t too far away keeping an eye on his oldest daughter.
‘Marvellous occasion, super crowd, this is what ladies football needs. There’s no reason we can’t have much more of this, games in the right places to boost the games. My parents were able to come here today; they couldn’t make a game in Cork. Fantastic facilities here in Clon, well done to all involved,’ he said. Last word before we departed Ahamilla, looking splendid in the evening sun, well satisfied with the day’s events, went to the person behind Clon creating history on Sunday and the driving force behind all the work involved – Yvonne Ryan, chairperson of the ladies football club, who had the advantage of being married to the secretary of the GAA club, Paddy, as all the arrangements were made.
‘A fantastic day, absolutely delighted, everything couldn't have gone better,’ she said. ‘The Munster LGFA are absolutely thrilled with it. Since I got the call from Munster liaison officer, Miriam Forbes, about four weeks ago it’s been all hands on deck. We’ve been working day and night to get the place in order and in fairness to all the volunteers, it was immaculate today.
‘I told the Munster LGFA they are welcome back here any time; everything is here, even the sun shone. We’re definitely available to do it again.’
A great win for Cork, a great day for Ahamilla and the Clonakilty clubs and a wonderful advertisement for ladies football.