Shels belles led the way
Inclusion of ladies in Féile marked by fabulous first
Sunday, June 19, 1994 was an historic day in the history of the Shelmalier ladies' Gaelic football club. On that date they captured the All-Ireland Féile Corn Uí Riada Cup by defeating Beaufort of Kerry by 1-8 to 0-3 in the final at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney.
This was the first time that ladies' Gaelic football was included in the national Féile competition which had started in 1982. It was a great honour for the club that the girls brought the first All-Ireland championship in Gaelic field games to the parish under the Shelmalier name.
Preparation for this victory had commenced three years previously when the panel of players outlined their aim, to win the Under 14 county championship of 1994. They achieved their goal one year ahead of schedule by winning the 1993 county final.
Ladies' Gaelic football had been included in the Wexford Féile competition since 1987. However, when it was announced that ladies' football was to be included in the national Féile for the first time, it gave the girls renewed impetus to not only retain their county championship title, but to attempt to win the Wexford Féile and represent Wexford against the best teams in the country.
They set about achieving their aims by training two days per week and playing practice matches against the Shelmalier Under-12 and Under-14 boys' teams.
The Shelmalier club entered two teams in the Wexford Féile blitz, which was played in Hollymount on May 2, 1994. The 'B' team was defeated by Geraldine O'Hanrahans (3-2 to 0-2), Bannow-Ballymitty (0-3 to 0-1) and St. Fintan's (0-3 to nil). The 'A' team defeated Horeswood (6-4 to nil), Kilmore (4-5 to nil) and Bannow-Ballymitty (7-4 to nil).
In the semi-final Shels defeated Taghmon-Camross on the scoreline of 4-2 to 2-1. Mentors on the day were Mary Cullen, Margaret O Brien, Eddie Kehoe, Tina Walsh, Angie Whitmore, Mary O'Leary, Paddy McMahon, Pat and Liz Quill.
The Wexford Féile final between Shelmalier and Gusserane was played in Wexford Park on Saturday, May 7. Shels, having played with a strong breeze, looked in trouble at half-time when they only led by 0-2 to nil. However, a much more determined team emerged for the second-half, and produced a powerful performance to run out winners on the scoreline of 4-3 to nil. Captain Orla Joyce was presented with the Jim Ferguson Cup by the Vice-Chairperson of the County Board, Liz Quill.
Team: Michelle Hearne; Lisa Gordon, Emma Carroll, Orla Joyce; Mairéad Stamp, Ornagh Cullen, Mag Kelly; Sandy Carr, Emma Grannell; Lisa Canning, Michelle Murphy, Sharon Carr; Claire Larkin, Kate Kelly, Eimear McMahon. Subs. - Fiona Cullen, Catherine Doyle, Lorraine Walsh, Noeleen Fortune, Linda Mahon, Edwina Roche, Lisa Scallan, Suzanne Scallan, Aoife O'Connor, Maeve Quill, Amy Kehoe, Sinéad Kelly, Aoife Farrell, Kate O'Brien, Michelle Cosgrave, Therese Sheil, Nicola O'Reilly, Alison Hogan, Michelle Hogan, Elizabeth Doyle, Michelle Doyle, Ann Hearne, Rebecca Furlong, Carla Gaul, Josepha Buttle, Sinéad Griffith, Selena Carr, Claire Brennan, Stephanie Brennan, Tracie Lawlor, Ailish Shortle, Anne-Marie Kelly, Amy Fox.
This victory ensured that Shelmalier would represent Wexford in the national Féile finals in Kerry from June 16 to 19. At that time, clubs were allowed a panel of 21 players and two selectors, which meant disappointment for a number of players and officials. However, the remaining members were given the option of travelling with the official party. A hectic five weeks ensued, with off the field activities such as fundraising, paperwork, playing gear etc. to be organised.
Funding for the bus was provided by the parents, and the remainder was co-ordinated by Liz Quill, Mary O'Leary, Margaret O'Brien and Mary Cullen. Training, practice and championship matches had also to be catered for.
With all arrangements in place the team, officials and parents set off for Kerry in a confident mood on Thursday, June 16. The girls, looking resplendent in their new playing gear, sponsored by Flanagan's of Castlebridge, took part in the parade in Tralee that evening. The girls were based approximately five miles outside of Castleisland in Currow, the famed club of such Kerry stalwarts as Tommy and Mick Doyle, Mick Galwey and Moss Keane, all of whom played Gaelic football with Currow but were probably better known as rugby internationals who represented Ireland, and the latter three The Lions, with distinction.
It is also the birthplace of the famous Kerry scribe Con Houlihan. The Shels girls were well looked after by their hosts for the weekend. Friday was spent with a light training session in the forenoon, and a trip to Killarney in the afternoon.
The first game was against the host club and tournament favourites Currow on Friday evening, and what a game it turned out to be. The teams were level at 1-2 each at half-time with Shels scores coming from Sharon Carr (1-0), Michelle Murphy and Claire Larkin (0-1 each).
Currow's star midfielder and inter-county player, Denise Walsh, who went on to represent Ireland in basketball, had an early second-half point. Despite Shelmalier dominance, they were unable to turn their superiority into scores until three minutes from time when Emma Carroll scored the winning goal from a '45. Michelle Hearne pulled off a point-blank save in the final minute to ensure victory by 2-2 to 1-3.
Saturday saw the Shelmalier team head to Castleisland where they defeated the home club Desmonds by 7-6 to nil, and An Tochar of Wicklow by 4-10 to 0-1. This ensured qualification for the semi-final in Tralee at 6 p.m. where they defeated Carnew Emmets of Wicklow by 5-8 to nil.
Mag Kelly represented Wexford in the skills competition where she finished third in her group, and narrowly missed qualification for the final. Currow's Denise Walsh went on to win the All-Ireland Féile skills final in Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney.
All gathered on Saturday evening at the aforementioned Walsh's parents' house to watch Ireland's great 1-0 World Cup victory over Italy in New York, thanks to a Ray Houghton goal to round off a most satisfying day.
Accompanied by the girls from the host club, the Shels set off for Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney on Sunday morning to take on one of Kerry's top clubs, Beaufort, in the final at 1.45 p.m. Many supporters travelled from Wexford for the final. The Gusserane girls who were drafted in as late replacements for the Cork representatives, and who had been defeated in the semi-final after extra-time by Beaufort, also attended to lend their vocal support, as did the Leixlip girls from Kildare. It was like a home game for the Shels.
The craic and camaraderie built up in the course of the trip ensured total commitment to their aim of being All-Ireland champions. Beaufort opened the scoring with a point which Emma Grannell responded to with a similar score before Kate Kelly added 1-1. Beaufort pointed before the interval to leave Shels leading by 1-2 to 0-2 at half-time.
Whilst Beaufort opened the second-half scoring with a point, the Shelmalier girls dominated the rest of the half with two points from Kate Kelly, Lisa Canning, Kelly again and a brace from Sandy Carr to run out deserving winners on the scoreline of 1-8 to 0-3.
The Corn Uí Riada Cup was presented to the team captain, Orla Joyce, by the President of Cumann Peil Gael na mBan, Helen O'Rourke.
During the weekend competition, the girls scored a total of 19 goals and 34 points whilst conceding only one goal and seven points. This was a fine team effort with exceptional scoring considering that all games were 15 minutes a half, and conceding so little against top clubs in the country. When taking the Wexford Féile into consideration, they scored a total of 44-52 and conceded 3-8 for the entire Féile competition.
Scorers for the All-Ireland tournament were: Kate Kelly 4-10, Michelle Murphy and Sandy Carr 4-3 each, Emma Grannell 1-8, Claire Larkin 1-4, Emma Carroll 1-3, Lisa Canning 1-2, Catherine Doyle 1-1, and an own goal.
Many of these girls went on to become household names in both ladies' football and camogie, representing both codes at inter-county level. The club has won 15 Co. Senior championships, five Leinster Senior championships and two All-Ireland Senior club championships in addition to 15 county league titles in ladies' football, as well as Senior and Junior camogie championships in the intervening years.
In an era where we hear so much about player burn-out, it is a wonderful achievement that 21 years later, ten of those girls are still playing either football, camogie or both. They are an example of what can be achieved when game time and training is managed in a structured fashion.
The All-Ireland winning panel for the 1994 Féile featured: Michelle Hearne, Lisa Gordon, Emma Carroll, Orla Joyce (capt.), Mairéad Stamp, Mag Kelly, Sharon Carr, Ornagh Cullen, Sandy Carr, Lisa Canning, Kate Kelly, Michelle Murphy, Catherine Doyle, Emma Grannell, Claire Larkin, Fiona Cullen, Suzanne Scallan, Noeleen Fortune, Aoife O'Connor, Eimear McMahon, Lorraine Walsh.
The team mentors were Mary Cullen, Margaret O'Brien and Pat Quill, plus paramedic Liz Quill. Unfortunately, Eddie Kehoe was unable to travel due to illness.
Despite tiredness after the weekend, it was a noisy and joyous journey back to Castlebridge, Screen and Curracloe where the team, officials, and supporters were met by a large contingent of home supporters. A special word of appreciation goes to the bus driver, Richard Murphy Oylegate, who joined in the spirit of the occasion.
Sadly, team mentor Mary Cullen and player Emma Grannell have gone to their eternal rewards. They fought their terminal illness with the same bravery and fortitude that they displayed on the football fields. They are a huge loss to their families, friends and the club.
With thanks to Pat Quill for information supplied.