There’s no questioning the county’s hurling credentials – after all, 35 All-Ireland wins don’t lie – but when it comes to football the Kilkenny Cats are as tame as kittens.
But that’s all set to change, and the first signs of the county’s bright footballing future were witnessed last month at a young girls GAA match in James Park where Dunnamaggin LGFC Under 12s beat Erin’s Own in the Roinn D County Final.
What makes the victory remarkable is that the Dunnamaggin club was only established last February, but in less than six months it’s already attracting nationwide attention thanks to the huge number of women and girls who’ve signed up as members.
Club Public Relations Officer, Aine Walsh, points to the National Lottery funded GAA Gaelic4Girls programme as pivotal to the club’s huge popularity.
“We applied to be the Gaelic4Girls representatives for Kilkenny and we got picked,” she says. “The first day we were hoping we’d have 30 girls and 59 turned up, which for a rural area is huge.
“Gaelic4Girls gives girls a taster for football without them having to be a club member. It’s run over the course of a few weeks and if at the end they don’t like it, they don't have to stick at it, and if they do they can join the club.
“About 90 per cent of the girls who took part have become full club members.”
Once Gaelic4Girls was established at Dunnamaggin, the young players began training, with the emphasis firmly placed on fun and learning to enjoy the game. They later took part in local blitz tournaments, where all players have a chance to play a game, practice some newfound skills - and have a blast.
Earlier this month the Dunnamaggin girls were rewarded for their dedication to the programme when 40 of them represented their county at the prestigious National Blitz in Croke Park.
It’s an incredible achievement for a football club set up in a county that’s famous for hurling.
“There’s a strong tradition of hurling in Kilkenny but we’d be fairly strong in football in our local club,” says Aine.
The club Aine talks about is Dunnamaggin GAA club. Established in 1896 it’s been at the heart of the local community ever since, and has supplied Kilkenny with a steady stream of wonderful hurlers.
The club’s current five-year strategy includes the development of ladies’ teams and so the lads were more than happy to support the formation of Dunnamaggin LGFC.
But everybody was surprised when the Under-12s side won the new club its first trophy last month, few more so than Aine, as her daughter, Niamh, plays for the team.
But what she’s really thrilled about is the fact that Niamh and younger sister Orla have a new healthy outlet in their community.
“It’s added a real buzz to the area, especially with the girls because they now feel they belong and they’ve got something to focus on,” she explains.
“Before, girls would generally have had to go outside the parish to play their sport.
“We’re just doing this basically so that our daughters will have something to do and it’s so important to keep girls involved in sport because it’s an area where as they grow older, the numbers tend to drop off.”
Dunnamaggin LGFC Coaching and Development Officer, Elena Byrne, is also delighted to be doing something for the local community that also benefits her six-year-old daughter, Colleen.
Elena looks after Dunnamaggin’s nursery club for Under 8s and Under 6s and also takes charge of the club’s Gaelic4Mothers&Others, another great GAA initiative for local women.
“Most of the Mothers and Others would be new to the sport,” she says.
“They’ve no experience but they were saying, after the first session, that the only injuries they had were their ribs, which were hurting from laughing!”
Elena’s a former Dublin Ladies GAA player so her experience is a valuable asset in her adopted community, and despite coming from a strong footballing county she’s been embraced by locals in the home of hurling.
“I moved here five years ago and I can’t get over the community, they’re just so inclusive and welcoming,” she says.
“It’s a very unique little spot and there’s such a warmth about the place.
“I think when this started back in February it caused a bit of a stir and people were delighted to have the opportunity to wear the Dunnamaggin colours, especially the girls.
“We’re absolutely thrilled with the Under 12s winning the final, of course. You don’t expect to win games, let alone finals, in your first year so we’re very, very happy with that.
“There was great community backing for the final. Everyone was so proud of them and naturally the girls themselves were delighted with it all. It’s great to have a shiny new cup to display.”
Elena, like Aine, believes the emphasis is firmly on fun and providing a safe environment for sport, but you never know what the future might hold for the club.
“We have full teams for the under 12, 13 and 14 sides as well as a seven-a-side for under 16s at the moment,” says Aine.
“In four or five years time we’re going to have loads of older teenage players so if we can keep them playing we’re definitely going to have enough for a senior team.”
Watch out Ireland. It won’t be long before Dunnamaggin’s cool cats are ready to claim some football cream for their hurling county.
WIN A COUNTY FINAL? IT’S THE DUNN’ THING!
THE Dunnamaggin LGFC Under 12 side became the first team in the club’s short history to win a county final with victory over Erin’s Own in the Roinn D Final in James Park on June 17.
The Dunnamaggin midfield trio of Laura Davis, Rachel Doherty and Órla Buckley gained control from the throw in and found their stride in an eagerly contested encounter that was played in blustery conditions.
Some excellent teamwork between forwards Ciara Mulhall, Monica Diaz and Aideen Hickey led to a well-taken goal by Hannah Persse in the first few minutes.
Erin’s Own replied with a point in the second quarter reducing Dunnamaggin’s lead but a great point from Monica Diaz gave them a four-point advantage at half time.
In the second half, the Dunnamaggin half back line of Amy Fennelly and Lauren Walsh chased and fought for every ball, while Erin’s Own found it impossible to breach the full back line of Níamh Walsh and Isobel Johnston, and Shannon Wall was very reliable between the posts.
The result was sealed when some great teamwork led to a Rachel Doherty goal and panel members who came on during the match each played their part and did all that was asked of them.
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