A first club All-Ireland win, a family affair, and the ever-present club and county legend
THE DUST MAY have settled, but the memories of that special day will last a lifetime.
In late January, Kilkerrin-Clonberne of Galway were crowned All-Ireland senior club champions for the very first time, ending Mourneabbey’s bid for three-in-a-row as they lifted the Dolores Tyrrell Memorial Cup.
“It was definitely the best win I have ever had in ladies football,” as Nicola Ward beamed at the 2022 Lidl Ladies National League launch last week.
“Playing with the girls that I’ve been playing with since I’ve been U10, it was such a nice community, family feel to it. And the celebrations afterwards were just overwhelming.
“Even this week, the girls have been going around with the cup to the school, the creches and the church – even at mass, they were in both parishes with the cup. The celebrations will be still ongoing for another while. But finally nice to win something big at senior level.”
The nature of the victory must have made it all the more pleasing. The long-time Galway and Connacht champions avenged the heartache of defeat to the same opponents in 2019, and did so with a simply stunning performance.
Kilkerrin-Clonberne finished 1-11 to 1-7 winners in Birr, holding the Cork heavyweights to just one point from play — scored by Ciara O’Sullivan in the 51st minute.
Last time out, in their first decider appearance, a single point was the difference after Laura Fitzgerald broke their hearts with less than 20 seconds remaining.
Kilkerrin-Clonberne celebrate after their win.
Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO
“We’d all been talking about 2019 in the lead-up to the match,” 2019 All-Star Ward explains. “I was saying, ‘We’re all two years older, we’re two years stronger’. Even Eva Noone, our corner forward in 2019 was only 16 playing, and those two years stood to her.
“To think that she’s still only 18, and just got that bit cuter. I know when you do lose matches it is awful to use them but you definitely do learn from them and you do get that experience from them.
“As much as 2019 hurt, we definitely used it to our advantage in the final. It was just so great to get over the line and even sweeter that we got a bit of revenge on Mourneabbey from 2019.”
The sweetest part of all? Surely the fact that it was a family affair. Nicola’s twin sister, Louise, was captain, with their father, Willie, the manager.
The heartwarming scenes captured afterwards said it all.
“It was unreal. Dad and Michael Divilly, Siobhan, Olivia and Niamh’s Dad, they managed us in 2013 when we won our first senior county title with the club.
“Obviously we’ve been nearly trying for a decade to get to the All-Ireland and for them to come back — I know the roles are reversed this year, Michael was the manager back in 2012 — was just unreal, and it was just so fitting that they were involved. Our brother, Adrian, was involved in the management as well. Mum was the only one sweating at home by herself, but had a big part to play!
Seaimpíní na hÉireann!! @KClgfa @LadiesFootball |#currentaccount |#LGFAClub pic.twitter.com/UXmeVdg6kH
— Spórt TG4 (@SportTG4) January 29, 2022
“Obviously Dad is a bit older than most managers and maybe at the start of the year, people mightn’t have wanted him or thought other people might have been better for the job but I suppose myself and Louise seen literally how much effort and time he put into it.
“It was the talk in our house every single day. We’re just so delighted that he did it basically for us and got us over the line.”
Another who played a big role in the success, and the rise of Kilkerrin-Clonberne through the years, was Galway All-Ireland winning captain Annette Clarke.
Wearing the number 25 jersey, the long-serving star came off the bench in the closing minutes; her experience and know-how undoubtedly steadying the ship as the club edged closer and closer to the Holy Grail.
“Oh, stop,” Ward smiles. “She is a legend around Kilkerrin-Clonberne, she is just unbelievable. She’s a massive inspiration to us.
“We’ve looked up to her since we were young. We were in Croke Park when she captained Galway to the All-Ireland in 2004. And to think that she’s still a playing, what, nearly 20 years later is unreal.
“She gave birth to two beautiful babies in September and was back training with us then at the end of October. She’ll kill me for saying her age, but she’s 40 years old and she just…
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A special moment for Annette Clarke, one of our longest serving players, as she finally got her hands on the Dolores Tyrrell Memorial Cup this afternoon.
This sweet victory comes nearly 18 years after Annette captained Galway to the All-Ireland Ladies SFC title back in 2004. pic.twitter.com/SNJhfiHARr
— KilkerrinClonbernelgfa (@KClgfa) January 30, 2022
“She won a free, I think towards the end as well. Look, she has massive experience. Even when she came back in October, herself and another girl, Lisa Gannon, who had a baby, we were like, ‘Okay, we have everyone now.’ Everyone who could be with us was with us, and I think that was the most special thing about it. No one missed out.”
Clarke was involved with the Galway management team last year, but appears to be absent for 2021 in the wake of Gerry Fahy’s recent departure.
The Tribe remain without an official manager, with Ward and her clubmates watching from afar as they take a much-needed break from the inter-county scene through the early stages of the league.
She insists, however, that they’ll be “fully committed to the cause” after a few weeks off.
Working as a nurse in Crumlin Children’s Hospital, that’s Ward’s main focus at the minute as she continues to split her life between east and west.
“Still up and down – the car has some amount of mileage on it,” she laughs. “Between club and county now, it was a busy year but even after winning the club, it’s so worth it.
“Sometimes you ask yourself: ‘Why do you do this to yourself?’ But when you get a win like that, it’s so worth it.”
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