History - Ladies Football, From Belles to Bunnies

From Belles to Bunnies

By Colm Murray, November 2011

Following the foundation of underage development established by ‘Get a Kick out of Bredagh’ in 2000, Cera McArdle, a Senior player, picked up the mantle as Youth Coordinator.

A lasting impression on coaches and the girls would be those four little words reminding players what they should do when they get the ball…‘take your four steps’. To this day this remains the most important lesson received from Cera . This lesson was not lost on the first group of Bredagh Bunnies who have now graduated to the Senior and development panels.

Over the last 9 years the main focus of women’s football has been to introduce girls to football as young as possible and improve their skills appropriately. The challenge has been to maintain their passion and interest in the game and to allow them as many opportunities as possible to express themselves on the field.

Early signs of success within the development of the underage structure came in 2006 when five of the under 14s won an Ulster B Championship with Down (Nicole O’Connor, Ciara McGuire, Sarah Montgomery, Cassie Moane and Cathy Short).

In the same year, Bredagh U12s reached the Carryduff Blitz and a county final.  This was followed two years later when the under 16 team won the league title,managed by Cillian Short and Brendan O’Connell. By 2010 the under 12s won the Castlewellan Shield and had 10 players involved in the Down Under 13 Development Squad. It was also the year that the Under 14 came second in the ‘A’ league and beaten finalist in the ‘A’ Championship against a very strong Castlewellan team. Five players (Caiomhe McLaughlin, Nuala Carvill, Erin McGinn, Laoise Duffy and Ella Durkin) were involved the Under 14 Down panel and Under 16s had two players (Aoife King & Haley McKeever) participating at county level.

As with any Gaelic club, sport is important in bringing players together but it is the friendship and family connections which keeps teams together. In Bredagh girls this bond is apparent at all age groups and makes coaching more rewarding for all involved. Activities that have been successful in doing this are the day trips, which include the regular outing to the Ladies All Ireland each year, and friendlies with teams from neighbouring counties as well as a number of Dublin clubs. The end of season outing has now been added to this social calendar and naturally is proving popular with all players.

Through regular discussions with coaches a number of concerns were identified perceived to limiting the girls development- these included a lack of training space, limited access to time on the pitch and no off-season training. These concerns were addressed firstly in the 2008 season when training was introduced twice weekly. In 2009 winter training was provided for all girls from 9 years and up. In 2010 girls football secured a significant increase in the time and space allocated to them in Cherryvale.  These three improvements have increased the skill level and on pitch confidence.

What’s next for girls football with Bredagh?

Girls football has reached a new level in its development with a consolidated structure and a pool of young players who have been coached from an early age and are playing competitive football at the highest level in the county. Our challenge now is to develop more players from an earlier age and critical to it’s success is having football played all year round in primary schools.

In addition to this we plan to increase outreach with other clubs, enter a team for Féile and maximise the number of girls participating in the county programmes for player development. Ultimately the goal for Bredagh girls football is to become a dominant force in Down football through winning both league and championship consistently at U14 and U16.

Tribute must be paid to all the players who have formed each of the teams and who have progressed through each of the age groups and developed into strong players on the Bredagh Senior panel and county panels.

Thanks should also be paid to the parents and volunteers who support ladies football in many different ways, from providing lifts to and from games to giving a lift with their vocal support during games, from raising well needed funds to providing refreshments for visiting clubs.

Finally, thanks to the coaching staff who give their time, expertise and enthusiasm to train, coach and mentor players and teams which can never be measured by score at the end of a game or the position in a league. We salute Cera McArdle Lorraine McCaffrey, Paddy McAlliney, Gerry Mc Guire, Joe Hynds, Brendan Downey, Eamon Murphy, Colm Murray, Cillian Short, Paul Doran, Alex McFarland, Michael Wilson, Robbie Crouch, Aidan Fitzpatrick, Martin Thompson, Damian Cunningham, Edel Teague, Peadar Doyle, Maura McArdle, Arlene McCluskey, Hugh McVeigh, Colm Joyce, Paul O’Reilly, Paddy Finnegan Barry and Anna McAlinney.

The formation of both Ladies Gaelic Football in Ireland and the club occurred with a couple of years of each other. As we celebrate 40 years of Bredagh GAC, and at the time of writing the Senior Ladies are involved in a Play-off to become Down Division 1 Champions we look forward to continued development and success of both club and code.