Saluting Cork female athletes who blazed a trail in GAA and soccer

Leesiders made a mark in two sports long before it became fashionable
Saluting Cork female athletes who blazed a trail in GAA and soccer

Cork Rangers LFC won the Munster Senior League, President's Cup and Mick Delaney Tournament in 1993. Back: Chris Condon, Ann Brady, Claire Butler, Brenda Meaney, Caroline Mitchell, Valerie O'Driscoll, Jackie O'Shea. Front: Maeve Butler, Chris O'Donovan, Josie Hogan, Mags Finn, Liz Towler, Mary Brady. 

LAST Thursday’s column, which focused on Cork sportspeople who had excelled in both soccer and Gaelic games, had a good reaction.

Among those who got in touch was Christine O’Donovan, the deputy head of sport & physical activity at UCC, and she had some interesting information regarding female sporting stars.

“Liz Towler combined both intercounty camogie and international soccer at a time when the GAA scorned players for playing ‘foreign’ sports,” Christine said.

“Liz won All-Ireland senior camogie titles with Cork and has caps for the Irish senior women's soccer team. Liz played her club camogie with Bishopstown and her club soccer with Killeady United and Cork Rangers.

“Paula Goggins also played senior inter-county camogie with Cork and represented Ireland at senior level in soccer. Her home club in camogie was Na Piarsaigh and she played soccer with Killeady United and Cork Rangers as well.

“Irene O’Keeffe, was an All-Ireland camogie winner with Cork and many successes with Cork Rangers in soccer. Inniscarra was her home camogie club. Sandie Fitzgibbon was also an accomplished soccer player in addition to her exploits on the GAA pitch and on the basketball court.”

Killeady Utd LFAI runners-up 1984, the first Cork team to reach senior final. Back: Ann Goggins (coach), Christene McDonnell, Claire Ronan, Catherine Buckley, Grainne Dwyer, Paula Goggins, Carol Rowe, Chris Condon, Noreen Barrett, Tom O’Donovan (manager). Front: Liz Towler, Chris Buckley, Colette O’Regan, Patricia Hannigan, Noreen Herlihy, Ann Daly. Missing from photo Jackie O’Shea, Breda Meaney, Valerie McDonnell. 
Killeady Utd LFAI runners-up 1984, the first Cork team to reach senior final. Back: Ann Goggins (coach), Christene McDonnell, Claire Ronan, Catherine Buckley, Grainne Dwyer, Paula Goggins, Carol Rowe, Chris Condon, Noreen Barrett, Tom O’Donovan (manager). Front: Liz Towler, Chris Buckley, Colette O’Regan, Patricia Hannigan, Noreen Herlihy, Ann Daly. Missing from photo Jackie O’Shea, Breda Meaney, Valerie McDonnell. 

It’s not necessarily easy for multi-talented female players combine different codes nowadays, but it was certainly a lot more difficult back in the 1970s and 1980s. 

Women’s sports weren’t given the same levels of coverage as nowadays and those that played ladies’ football and camogie for their counties weren’t necessarily encouraged to go playing soccer. That these players were able to excel across the sports is a feather in their caps.

ALL-STAR CONTROVERSY

Saturday night saw feathers in caps given to the All-Star winners in hurling and football, with Dublin and Limerick naturally leading the way in each code.

Dublin’s nine football awards equalled the record set by the 1977 Dublin side and Kerry in 1981 – incidentally, in 1982, Offaly had seven to Kerry’s five; what would it have been but for Séamus Darby’s late intervention? However, rather than feting the nine Dubs, or three Cavan players, two Mayo or one Tipperary, there seemed to be attention given to the fact that Stephen Cluxton didn’t add to his previous six awards.

Cahair O’Kane of the Irish News crunched the numbers and showed that, while Cluxton’s kick-out win percentages were slightly better than Cavan’s Raymond Galligan, who was picked in goal, more of the Dublin captain’s kick-outs were uncontested. In addition, while Cluxton didn’t concede a single goal during the championship, he made one save – not one per game, but one in total. 

Galligan let in three goals but made seven saves, playing a vital role in the Breffni County winning a first Ulster title in 23 years. He also scored one point and created one goal chance.

If you were picking an Ireland team in the morning, Cluxton would have the number 1 jersey, without a doubt, and there’s hardly a doubt that he is the best goalkeeper of all-time, but the All-Star team isn’t about that. Galligan was the outstanding custodian during the 2020 championship and deserved the accolade.

For a team losing the final to have fewer awards than a semi-finalist is odd and Mayo suffered from the fact that their route to the decider only included one close game. In addition, it was more of an ensemble effort than relying on a few outstanding players – in 2010, Cork as champions won ‘only’ four All-Stars but it was down to a similar collective effort.

In the hurling, the All-Ireland winners Limerick also claimed nine awards, but again there was a debatable omission, that of William O’Donoghue. 

William O'Donoghue. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
William O'Donoghue. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

After a superb year at midfield, he was edged out by Waterford’s Jamie Barron and Clare’s Tony Kelly. 

Both of those players had superb years, but, while Kelly wore number 9 on his back, he didn’t operate as a traditional midfielder.

Essentially, the issue is that the All-Stars team retains the traditional 3-3-2-3-3 format, whereas the modern game has moved beyond that. It would probably have made sense to include Kelly at corner-forward with a roving brief, though that would have meant leaving off Aaron Gillane or Stephen Bennett.

It’s something that should perhaps be looked at going forward – but for now let’s hope that, at the end of this year, we are hailing award winners from Cork.

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