CLAIRE O’Donoghue is the four-time All-Ireland winning senior footballer from Leap – but the Maultrahane native had to leave her parish to follow her dream.
She played football with Kilmacabea, alongside the boys, up to U14 level, but that’s where her playing story with her local club ended.
Kilmacabea had no ladies’ football teams so in 2000 O’Donoghue had to move to continue her football journey. She joined Beara.
The proud Kilmac was back-up goalkeeper when Cork, under Eamonn Ryan, won the county’s first-ever All-Ireland ladies’ senior football title in 2005. Her medal collection still impresses. Four senior All-Irelands. Four Munsters. Four national leagues. But look through team-sheets from the time, and O’Donoghue’s club was Beara, not Kilmacabea.
She didn’t have the option to play football with her club beyond U14 level. She’s not the only one. Many girls and women have had to go outside the parish to play football.
‘A Leap girl had to go to Beara to play football and ended up playing for Cork,’ Kilmacabea’s Donie O’Donovan notes.
But times have changed. And for the better.
Kilmacabea GAA Club, created in 1888, fielded ladies’ football teams for the first time this year. There were three groups – U8, U10 and U12. It’s an important moment in the club’s history and development. It’s also a platform to build on.
‘It should have been done before now,’ admits Donie, who has spearheaded the set-up of girls’ football teams in the club.
‘Girls from our parish have played with Skibbereen, Rosscarbery, Castlehaven, Clann na nGael, and more. They have had to leave the parish to play football.
‘We should be catering for our girls here,’ he adds. He has a point. Look around. Neighbouring clubs like Clonakilty, Rosscarbery, Castlehaven, O’Donovan Rossa and Clann na nGael all have ladies football clubs and underage sections. And there are many more. Ladies football in West Cork is strong. Kilmacabea had fallen behind, but now it’s intent on catching up. It has got off to a good start.
On a mighty Monday, August 8th, in the West Cork U12 C1 League final in Barryroe, Kilmacabea defeated Courcey Rovers by 2-8 to 1-4 to win the club’s first-ever ladies football title. It was magical.
Donie O’Donovan is still campaigning with the club’s junior football team and was part of the history-makers that won Kilmacabea’s first Carbery JAFC title in 2017. That sparked huge celebrations. He saw the effect that success had on his club and can draw similarities with the U12s’ recent triumph.
‘This has brought the club together as much as winning the junior championship. That might sound over the top, but it has had that sort of galvanising effect within the club,’ he says.
To the outside world it was an U12C league final, but to the community of Leap, Glandore and Maulthrane, this mattered. Everyone got behind this U12 team. The green and gold flags were flying. There was excitement. A real buzz. A huge band of supporters thronged Barryroe for this football final.
‘It didn't matter the level, we had a bunch of girls all wearing the Kilmacabea jersey. They all had one thing in common – they were playing for the one club,’ says Donie.
New local heroes emerged. Nell Kinsella was captain fantastic. Sophie Scarlett was named player of the match. Eimear O’Donovan. Zoe O’Brien. Lucy Forsyth. Rua Mahmood. Kayla O’Sullivan. Emer Jennings. Heather O’Donovan. Aela French. Fiona Shanahan. Isabelle Murphy. Mia Collins. Ciara Connolly. Mary-Jo O’Mahony. Nevaeh Philpott. Ciara Jennings. Chloe Connolly. Caoimhe O’Brien. Annie O’Donovan. Bridget Hurley. All young heroes. Their desire to play football has brought Kilmacabea closer together. It introduced more families to the club. It strengthens its place in the fabric of the local community. In life after Covid lockdowns, it has brought an energy and noise and bodies back to the club. More importantly, now local girls in the parish can play football and have fun together. They don’t need to leave if they want to kick a ball. The hope is that the club will field teams at older age groups in the seasons ahead.
‘If you could get them to be 15, 16 and 17 years old and play football, that would be great. We want to cater for the girls here in our club, like we do with the boys,’ Donie explains. He has three girls. The oldest is eight years old. Like her dad, she’s football mad. Now she can aspire to play football with Kilmacabea, like her dad. Wear the same jersey, like her dad. Play on the same home pitch in John William Goulding Park, like her dad. What the boys have, the girls now have too.
Better late than never.
‘West Cork ladies football is so strong now and if you don’t cater for girls in your club, then you are falling behind the rest,’ says Donie, who was a key figure in turning a dream into a reality.
‘It stemmed from seeing the girls training with the boys and saying we need to do something about this.’
A determined group of people got together, intent on implementing change. If you build it, they will come – but this also took a lot of grafting and hard work. Last October, on the same day the annual Fr Crowley Cup tournament, for school kids in the parish, was played in Leap, a new Fr O’Sullivan Cup competition for girls was played. Four teams took part. Nell Kinsella, who went on to captain the victorious U12 girls’ team last week, also captained her team to success that day. The seeds were set – and the ladies’ football club grew from there. The recruitment drive started. Phones were hopping all over the parish. Soon, Fridays were designated as training days and numbers started to grow as the word spread. Good news tends to travel fast.
Kevin O’Brien, whose family is synonymous with Kilmacabea GAA Club as sponsors, O’Brien Haulage, got involved. So too did his wife Ailleen. Ciara Whooley, a Leap woman who plays her club football with Rosscarbery LGFA, helped out with training, too. As did Agnieszka Cebo. People came together and got involved – that’s a real success. The bonus is that this Kilmacabea U12 team won a West Cork league title. Cups sparkle and shine. It gets peoples’ attention. Like Claire O’Donoghue.
‘I am delighted to see a girls’ team starting with Kilmacabea. The success the U12 girls and management achieved will only be the start of great things to come and create a buzz for more girls to get involved,’ O’Donoghue says. Her six-year-old niece, Leah, plays underage with Kilmacabea and will dream of winning trophies with her club, now that option is there. Now it’s up and running, the hard work really starts, to build on what was created this year and take the next step so girls in the parish, like Claire O’Donoghue back in 2000, won’t have to join another club to play football.