Offaly’s pivotal role in establishing women’s football

WOMEN’S football has become one of the great participation sports in Ireland and Offaly can be very proud of the role they played in its creation in the 1970s.

Offaly played in some of the first organized women’s football matches in the early 1970s and they were one of only four counties represented when the Ladies Gaelic Football Association was formed in July 1974 – fittingly that meeting took place at the Hayes Hotel, Thurles, where the GAA had been founded nearly ninety years earlier.

Teams had come together to play Offaly before formal formation – Ballycumber was one of the first to play games in the late 1960s.

Offaly, Kerry, Tipperary and Galway were represented at that historic 1974 encounter and the first All-Ireland Championship took place that year when Offaly were beaten 2-3 to 2-2 by Tipperary in Durrow, Laois.

Women’s football was a very different sport then. He enjoyed nothing of the profile of the modern game and there was certainly no suggestion of a Croke Park setting for the All-Ireland Finals. Public interest was minimal and this inaugural All-Ireland final was played in front of a handful of spectators.

It was in the 2000s before the game really took off, but the seeds sown by these pioneers were crucial. Offaly was a serious force for the early years and the ladies’ achievement added to the feeling of excitement in the early 1980s as the county chased all-Ireland senior football and hurling honours.

Offaly were beaten by Kerry in the 1976 All-Ireland final, 4-6 to 1-5, while they finally won in 1979, beating Tipperary, 3-6 to 1-6, in a replayed final. They won a second All-Ireland in 1981, overcoming Cavan 1-11 to 4-0 and they appeared in their last senior All-Ireland final in 1982, losing to Kerry 1-8 to 1-2 . At Leinster, Offaly was unbeatable winning nine straight Leinster titles.

With motherhood and other commitments awaiting many members of this great team, Offaly went into a long decline and did not challenge for the All-Ireland senior title again.

The 1990s were a particularly difficult decade for the game at Offaly but over the past twenty years it has begun to flourish again. Clubs have organised, local leagues have become more competitive and standards of play have risen.

The county team returned to junior level, but there has been significant improvement over the past decade. There were big celebrations in 2013 when Offaly won the All-Ireland Junior Championship, beating Wexford in the final at Croke Park.

They have remained at mid level since then, while the county is still associated with All-Ireland’s final senior day at Croke Park, as the prize for winners is the Brendan Martin Cup – it was donated in 1974 by the popular Tullamore native who was key. features in the game’s line-up at Offaly and nationally. Martin was the first Offaly Ladies Football Secretary and the first President was Phyliss Price, née Hackett.

A Belmont man, the late Tommy Kenny was National Chairman from 1977 to 1979. The health of the game at Offaly was demonstrated in 2019 when Naomh Ciaran, a West Offaly club and dominant force in the club’s fare Offaly’s senior, staged a tremendous comeback to beat St Paul’s of Antrim in the 2019 All-Ireland Intermediate Club Final.

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