History - Ladies Football

Bredagh Ladies Gaelic Football

By Ciara Gallagher, Lorraine McCaffrey and Edel Teague, November 2011

Since its foundation in 1993 Bredagh ladies has grown steadily to become one of the biggest ladies clubs in Ulster.

Fielding teams at under 8, under 10, under 12, under 14, under 16, development, Senior and the recently introduced Gaelic4Mothers there are presently 175 active players in the club supported by 19 coaches. Behind these numbers there is a strong structure of parents, coaches and mentors who promote ladies football in the club.

The strength of this structure is seen through the winter training programmes undertaken by the club for different age groups, the development of the coaches, the sponsorship of the Senior team and the organising and running of an annual blitz for the younger age groups. The success of each team, competing at ‘A’ Divisions in the county leagues and championships, and each of the county teams having multiple representations from girls from Bredagh is testimony to how far we have come.

Today’s players owe a great debt of gratitude to the trail-blazers, both on and off the field, who put Bredagh at the forefront of ladies football in County Down for the past 18 years. The 25 year book in 1996 set out the challenges in the early years when the focus was on the Senior team but there was recognition that to survive and prosper, we needed to grow our own talent. 

In 2000 Bredagh ladies, in conjunction with the men’s club, ran a very successful 10-week youth coaching initiative, with an average of 30 girls turning out every week. This was the beginning of the reinvention of Bredagh ladies and the club built on this success to form the first ever under age girls’ team which entered the Down League in 2001.

After years of narrow championship defeats, we won our first Senior championship title on Friday 13th September 2002 under the management of Collie Mc Allister.  In defeating the defending champions, Iveagh Bosco, the team became the first Bredagh representatives to claim a Senior county crown.  Siobhan Mc Carney, who captained the team, recalls the momentous occasion; ‘Was Friday the 13th September to be a lucky date for the belles…… always the bridesmaid and never the bride, that’s how it had been for the last 6 years.  Semi-finals, finals, you name it the Bredagh belles had been there. Having played for Bredagh ladies since day one I had seen girls come and go over the years but 2002 felt different.

As well as the locals from the Ormeau Road, girls from 7 of the Ulster Counties represented the Bredagh club that season, embracing it as if it was their home club, all of whom played a vital part in bringing the first Down Senior Ladies Club Championship to the Ormeau Road.

Collie McAlister who led the pack that year gave us the inspiration and desire to succeed. We trained long & hard 2 or 3 times a week, all of us with the same objective, silverware at the end of the year!

The path to the final wasn’t easy. We had to overcome the challenges of Annaclone and Castlewellan on our journey that led us to play Iveagh Bosco who had won the championship so many times over the years and were well experienced on these big occasions. Bredagh stood strong and battled hard and the final whistle was the signal for a pitch invasion to kick off the Bredagh celebrations! Our time had finally come to lift the cup! Only two weeks later we regrouped after our narrow defeat in Ulster Club to finish the Down Senior League undefeated and were dually crowned ‘double champions’. 2002 was our year for sure!

It was an honour and privilege to captain the Bredagh Belles in 2002.  It truly was a TEAM effort by all involved. The most important thing for me was that we were ‘loyal’ friends both on and off the pitch and the successes we achieved in 2002 showed that!’

In the Ulster Championship, we were narrowly defeated by the experienced St Eunan’s, Letterkenny, but it is important to recall the girls who made history Fionnuala McAtamney,Ciara Gallagher, Siobhan Mc Carney, Fiona Mc Crory, Mairead Guinness,Maura Mc Ardle, Jackie Mc Allister, Cera Mc Ardle, Jacqui Clarke, Cathy Gallagher, Geraldine Grimley, Rachel Mc Callum, Martina Mc Caffrey, Arlene Mc Closkey, Helen Mc Gale,Marian Corry, Nel O’Neill, Grainne Mc Allister, Niamh Breslin, Eimear Proctor, Orla Smyth, Maria Smylie.
Bredagh continued to be a dominant force in Down ladies football and although championship silverware was not seen again until 2009 there were several championship final appearances in those seven years including some heartbreaking defeats. The 2005 final is one of particular note when Bredagh were defeated by Castlewellan by the narrowest of margins after extra time.

The era of many retirements (and attempted retirements!) dawned in 2008. With the loss of some experienced girls, the focus shifted to home grown talent and the fruits of labour were truly realised in 2009 when 10 of the starting 15 players in the championship final were home grown Bredagh girls that had moved up through the underage ranks and established their place on the Senior team.

Lorraine McCaffrey tells the tale for 2009 and 2010:

The foundation of the 2009 team was an influx of new recruits who adopted Bredagh and made it their home along with the emergence of the home grown youth including Emma Mulhern, Hannah Murray, Ashlin McCloskey, the Willighan sisters and Polly Moane establishing their places in the Senior team.

In 2009 Bredagh won the domestic double coming through league and championship undefeated.

The Senior championship began with a hard fought victory over Downpatrick in the quarter final before a convincing win against Bryansford to reach the county final against Saval. The final was played in hurricane type conditions in early September in Downpatrick, but despite the elements Bredagh were worthy winners with Victoria Mallot winning player of match and three of Bredagh’s old guard,Jacqui Clarke, Fionnuala McAtamney and Siobhan McCarney, claiming their second county championship medal.

Unfortunately Bredagh’s inexperience at Ulster Club level came home to roost and they were well beaten by the eventual All Ireland Champions Donaghmoyne of Monaghan in the first round. 2009 squad: Maura McCann, Emer Murtagh, Fionnuala McAtamney, Enya McCafferty, Geraldine Campbell, Gerardine McCann, Claire Timoney, Aoife McDonnell, Nuala Doherty, Mary McCann, Victoria Mallot, Cassie Moane, Siobhan McCarney, Kerrie O’Neill, Polly Moane, Marita Maguire, Ciara Moane, Hannah Murray, Niamh McCafferty, Emma, Mulhern, Jenny Agnew, Caroline Kelly, Jacqui Clarke.


Management team: Colm Joyce and Lorraine McCaffrey.

Team captain: Jenny Agnew.

The year 2010 saw the emergence of the Bredagh Minors: Emer Murtagh, Ciara Maguire, Catherine Murphy, Cassie Moane, Petia McAllister and Katie Campbell all played their way into a team that boasted many inter-county players.  The emergence of these players along with most of the 2009 panel saw Bredagh narrowly miss out on a second successive league title. However another championship win more than compensated . The championship campaign got off to a fantastic start with resounding victories over Rostrever in the preliminary round and neighbours Carryduff in the quarter final.

Bryansford provided much sterner opposition in the semi final but Bredagh’s experience and character saw them through to reach their second successive final.

The final against Castlewellan unfortunately became a topic of great debate and controversy for all the wrong reasons but great credit to the Bredagh team and management as they concentrated on affairs of the field. The game itself was a great advert for ladies football and Bredagh held on for a famous victory to retain the county championship on a Score line of Bredagh 2-16 Castlwellan 4-4.

Bredagh learned from their 2009 Ulster experience and reached  the semi final only to be narrowly defeated by the eventual Ulster Champions Termon of Donegal. This came after an impressive quarterfinal 1 point victory over Cavan Champions Lurgan.

2010 squad: Emer Murtagh, Hannah Murray, Grainne Hughes, Petia McAlister, Emma Mulhern, Kathy Conway, Naoime McMullen, Cassie Moane, Victoria Mallot, Mary McCann, Aoife McDonald, Kerrie O’Neill, Claire Timoney, Claire Byrne, Fionnuala McAtamney, Ciara Maguire, Caroline Kelly, Ashling McCloskey, Katie O’Rourke, Katie Campbell, Jamie Willighan, Polly Moane, Catherine Murphy, Louise McQuaid, Niamh McCafferty, Marian Corry, Enya McCafferty & Laura Willighan.

With the departure of no less than 10 players from 2010 championship starting 15, retaining the championship title in 2011 was going to be a major challenge. Despite the major squad depletion the team put in some incredible league performances in the earlier part of the season. Bryansford was the championship quarter final opposition and it took a replay to separate the sides with Bryansford eventual winners.

The highlight of the 2011 was certainly the emergence in the Senior ranks of junior squad players Julia Hinds and Lucy Doran who made Senior team debuts. The development team made steady progress in the junior league and there will be plenty more of the girls ready to step up to Senior ranks in the not too distant future.

County Stars

Over the years fourteen Bredagh players have won All Ireland titles with their respective counties of Down, Tyrone, Antrim, Armagh & Donegal which is testament to the calibre of players who have passed through the maroon colours.

Bredagh was well represented with six players, including team captain Jacqui Clarke, on the Down team that won the All Ireland Junior title in Croke Park in 2000. (Cathy Gallagher, Martina McCafferty, Mairead Gavin, Joanne Lavery, Veronica Ward completed the sextet).

Arlene McCloskey won an All Ireland with Tyrone in 1999, an All-Star in 2000 and captained Ulster to win the Inter-provincial title in 2002.

In 2005 it was Junior All Ireland glory for Bredagh’s Fionnuala McAtamney and Geraldine Grimley. The victorious Armagh team was also managed by Bredagh’s Lorraine McCaffrey & Jacqui Clarke. Lorraine continued her management career with Bredagh and is the current Senior ladies team manager.

In 2010 Aoife McDonnell captained Donegal to intermediate All Ireland glory while Caroline Kelly, Mary McCann, Gerardine McGinley (McCann), Claire Timoney & Geraldine Campbell secured an All Ireland Junior title with Antrim.

It is testament to the investment in youth development that Bredagh is currently represented on Down teams at all age levels.

Bredagh Ladies go International

Although regular competitors at the annual All Ireland sevens in Dublin and numerous other sevens tournaments around the country, Bredagh ladies first took their skills beyond the Emerald Isle when they competed in Tara ladies sevens in London in 2003. Once the bug set in the ladies have since travelled further afield to tournaments in Marbella in October 2005, in Barcelona 2006 and the final assignment for the now alumni group to Dubai in January 2009.

Gaelic4Mothers

The final piece of the jigsaw in Bredagh ladies development saw the introduction of the Ladies Gaelic Association Gaelic4Mothers initiative in 2011. It was born out of a casual conversation between Claire Murray and Ciara Gallagher in January 2011. Fast forward to June and over 20 mothers arrive for the inaugural Gaelic4Mothers training session at Bredagh. It is designed to be an innovative way to introduce mothers and other women to playing Ladies Gaelic Football in a fun, non-competitive and social environment.

So, from the youngest girl to the most experienced lady, there is a place for all South Belfast women in Bredagh. Thanks to the determination of founder members, skilful players and enthusiastic supporters ,Bredagh Ladies are a force to be reckoned with throughout Down, Ulster and Ireland.