Cracking a new code -Lavey’s Ladies Football story

Lavey have been shortlisted for Club of the Year at the Gaelic Life All-Stars’ night. Michael McMullan spoke with the club’s ladies football co-ordinator Brian Óg Boyle about their progress to become Ulster champions.

JUST over seven years ago ladies football was just an itch in Lavey, a club with All-Ireland titles in both men’s football and camogie.

They led the way in hurling for many a year. There has been a renaissance with their underage teams making serious strides again.

The itch wasn’t going away. There was room for a fourth code in a club with facilities the envy of many.

The parents around the parish took a look outside. Other clubs had integrated ladies football. Surely Lavey could follow. Why not?

Enter Mary Jo Boyle, a multiple championship winner when Glen were dominating the scene and a former county player.

Married into the club, to now chairman Gavin, their children were involved in various teams. Her standing in the game offered an opening. Parents began to bend her ear about the chances of getting ladies football off the ground.

The idea grew legs and a proposal was soon on the Lavey committee table. After some initial toing and froing, it was rubberstamped.

It was there to add to the established camogie roots without ever being allowed to weaken them. The move was always about the girls, they’d now have another avenue.

The first underage coaching sessions began, in March 2017, with players of primary school age. That was it. Lavey were officially a four-code club.

“Mary Jo came to me saying she was thinking of starting ladies football, a few ones had asked her,” recalls ladies football coordinator Brian Óg Boyle, a cousin of Gavin.

EARLY SUCCESS…Lavey celebrate their first success at a blitz in LIssan

At the time, a school of thought questioned what the club could offer young girls for whom camogie didn’t float their boat.

In the beginning, the coaches were shown the ropes on how to get the basic skills across.

“I didn’t want them going somewhere else to play football and that, for me, was one of the driving factors behind it,” Boyle points out.

There was an appetite from parents and it was going to fall under the greater Gaelic games umbrella. It was a win for everyone.

For any girl not playing camogie, it offered a different sport. It was an hour in the day away from television and screens. Time spent being active or in the great outdoors is always well spent.

“It was a social aspect too, because if they weren’t playing camogie then they weren’t in the gang,” Boyle added.

When the football wheels were being put in motion, one of the key factors was the concept of dual players. Compromise was key.

SO NEAR…The Lavey squad pictured before their All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Claremorris

Of Lavey’s winning Féile football and camogie teams last season, “85 per cent” played both codes. That’s the way it was going to be.

Like the Lavey men playing both codes in the nineties and Sleacht Néill’s recent success in both fronts, playing both camogie and football complemented each other.

“We won the football Féile and then it gave the girls the drive to win the camogie too,” Boyle said of their fruitful 2023.

“That night up in Banagher, Swatragh were hot favourites (in the camogie final) but it was Lavey’s never day die mentality to keep going until Emily Harris scored a goal to see us win by a point.”

From the start, ladies football was only going to work if there was balance between the codes. The focus was on making both codes walk the same path. It was all about Lavey.

“There were nights set out for football and others for camogie,” Boyle points out.

“If there was a clash with a game, the management would’ve communicated and swapped their slots.”

The important ingredient was the coaches’ awareness of both codes as players of dual players.

“They both understood the complications the other management were facing and worked together,” Boyle added, “it’s all about communication.”

By 2018 an u-14 team was up and running leading into u-16 and minor football the following year.

In what is a fast-growing sport, Lavey are now established and their haul of silverware helps chart their meteoric rise.

Off the field, it has brought the club closer together with more people getting involved in coaching and various administration roles.

“Without doubt, you have more people about,” Boyle said. “If you are running a function or anything in the club and you needed a loaf of sandwiches, it was like the loaves the fishes, you would’ve had enough to feed the 5,000.”

Parents and older girls in the parish have got involved seeing the other benefits for the children.

“At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about,” Boyle adds. “It’s not about any of the coaches, the parents, the committee or the club; it’s about the girls themselves so it is beneficial in every way.”

On the pitch, their amazing progress saw silverware in the form of the treble at u-14 football level alongside the camogie Féile title.

In the u-16 grade they were knocking on the door, losing the championship final and piped in a three way play-off for the league title.

Lavey’s success has also been Derry’s gain with players helping the county to All-Ireland success.


It wasn’t long before the Lavey senior girls wanted their slice of the pie. Just like the beginnings at underage level, word filtered through to Mary Jo Boyle querying the feasibility of a senior team.

Lavey’s All-Ireland winning defender Brian Scullion was tasked with heading up a management team and training began in earnest in 2022 with over 40 players all expressing an interest.

It would prove a super quick story of progress, a nine-month timeframe from nothing to being crowned Derry Junior champions.

Every journey begins with a single step and an eager group began their preparations at the club’s indoor training facility, recently named as the CMG Arena after the late Collie McGurk.

“There were over 40 at training. Some girls had kicked a bit of football and others hadn’t played football in their lives,” Boyle remembers from looking on at their first session, staying on to watch after he had put the u-16s through their paces.

“Others were coming for the fitness and social aspects of it and really got into it.”

A glance at their first coaching session was like a scene from any beginner underage team. Spills were aplenty. Stringing a series of passes with the ball hitting the deck was a struggle but persistence was the key word.

And there was a freshness to it all. Everyone loves something new.

By the time they won the Ulster Intermediate title last year, they were playing a brand of heads up, kicking football many teams would be envious of.

In Carla Collins and Aoife Shaw they had scoring power. Everywhere else, they had plenty of talent and finesse to get the ball in their direction.

The ball was always moved forward. The head would be lifted, the kick executed and the player inside would make their runs knowing it was coming.

“It was an unbelievable buzz and sense of achievement, especially for those girls who had only started playing football,” Boyle added of winning the 2022 Derry Junior title.

“To see what could be achieved in such a short space of time, that was brilliant for them.

“That was their drive for the following year, to take it one step further. They went on to win the Derry Intermediate and win Ulster.”

WINNING START…Lavey won the Derry junior title in their first season of adult football

Silverware was one thing. Another was putting the club back on the provincial map again. And in a new code.

Older people around the club were out watching football again. Those who didn’t know about ladies football were lending their shoulder of support.

“It was phenomenal,” Boyle said of how it made the club tick. “The feeling around the parish, if you had been able to bottle it and sold it, you would’ve made a fortune.

“Everybody was talking about it, there as buy in and there was hype, which would’ve been the same in Glen with their success. It was the epicentre at that time, the buzz and the feel-good factor.”

Boyle puts their run of success down to a number of things. First, like anything else that yields progress, there was a work ethic across the board.

Silverware doesn’t come for nothing. It needs to me met at least halfway.

“It was also very important to get the balance right between the camogie and football so it would’ve cause friction within the club,” he said. “That was important and communication was the key.”

In terms of the senior team, having the right personnel along the line was important too. And the girls needed to have that inner desire to succeed.

“They wanted to learn, they wanted to get better with every ball they kicked,” Boyle added. “Every night they went out, they wanted to strive to achieve.”

There was also the grit they took from slogging it out in tight championship games.

“That camogie experience was unbelievably beneficial to them,” he added before reinforcing the dual player concept that has been central to the Lavey ladies football story.

Shaw were in involved in Derry’s All-Ireland winning team. With want and compromise, it can happen.

It’s the same with Collins, mixing her shooting the lights with the big ball with Ulster glory was Ulster success with Derry minor camogs. And they are only two examples.

“It is like anything else, the girls want to play but all the work that goes on the behind the scenes make it possible,” Boyle sums up.

Seven years on, Lavey ladies football is here to stay. The camogie is the same. It’s about balance and it’s about hard work.

The size of the ball doesn’t matter. The Gaels of Lavey will pull their sleeves up, tear on and do the best you can for all concerned.

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