Glen was the venue for a festival of football, craic and rolling back the years last Saturday. It was a huge success. Michael McMullan chatted with Clare Leahy and Emma Gormley on the benefits of recreational football.
ONE glance off the Glenshane Pass last Saturday afternoon was enough to tell you there was something major happening at Glen pitch.
There were cars as far as the eyes could see. The sun was shining and both pitches were heaving with colour. Portable goals were plentiful and balls whizzing back and forth.
There were 29 teams there with one common purpose, mixing fun and football.
It was one half of a Gaelic for Mothers and Others super Saturday. It was the same story in County Down where Atticall rolled out their red carpet. Across both venues, just short of a thousand players rolled back the years.
Non-competitive, recreational, football for over 25s opens many doors. Former players get a chance to dust down the boots. Those who said goodbye to sport at underage have a second chance. Those returning from work and study abroad have a passport back into the community. Players never having played can give it a go. There is something for everyone.
Clare Leahy was a multiple championship winner in her playing days with Glen’s all-conquering machine that yielded Derry and Ulster titles galore.
Now, she is at the forefront of ladies football in the club. Every night she’ll have some sort of involvement. Saturday was another milestone.
She gives other clubs advice on giving it a go. Between the Ladies Football website and the Gaelic for Mothers and Others Facebook site, there will be someone to give you a steer.
“It’s a lot easier than it was 30 years ago when you’d have to dig out all the contact numbers,” she jokes.
The main thing is buying into the ethos of recreational football. Glen began in 2019 and it wasn’t too long before her husband Donal had the wheels in motion for the men.
The attraction was there for all to see. An avenue back into the game and, just like that, the Glen Recreational Reserve team was formed.
“You are going to get people who have played at the highest level, people who have played at underage, people who have never played and who have moved to the area,” Clare said of the range of Glen’s team.
It’s about getting the balance right. Permission is sought from the LGFA for games and all is done to keep the non-competitive ethos at its core.
In Glen, it began with the concept of mothers dropping their kids off for training and taking an hour to themselves.
The first photo posted at the initial session contained a handful of players from their Ulster winning teams of yesteryear. There was a concern it would put newcomers off throwing their hat in the ring.
Leahy stresses there is something for everyone. While it’s not competitive, there is nothing that replaces the buzz of competing for a ball or sticking it into the net.
“You are being competitive, you are having fun but you have to try to teach yourself to go at 80 per cent so you are not taking ball and all,” she said.
“In my opinion, women in society, we don’t put ourselves first if it is our night for training,” she added, giving another reason for the importance of this new all-inclusive avenue for Gaelic games.
“Now, we have that one hour….you establish that one hour and there are more laughs than laps.
“It’s the craic, for that one hour you are playing football, having a laugh and meeting people. People go to university and come back and they are maybe raising a family.
“It gets them back into the community, it opens doors again and friendships. It is giving time to socialise and meet people rather than sitting on WhatsApp groups which is the way friendships are nearly gone now.
“Another benefit was how special it was how many children and families who came along to see their mammy playing football.”
From looking at Saturday’s extravaganza, Glen gazed on at teams coming with their picnic rugs, cooler boxes and trollies as the seasoned teams came prepared. In other instances, gazebos are assembled. It’s one big jolly with football as its focus. This was one exciting new sporting world.
When the email was sent out from Ulster LGFA asking for clubs to volunteer to host, Leahy and organiser Clare McQuiston took a moment before expressing their interest. It was a no-brainer.
Glen is central on the main Belfast to Derry road. Bang in the middle of Ulster and used to hosting schools blitzes and club championship games.
Away from the pitch, up the town, sits the club’s social centre. A hall and bar for the ideal feeding and watering station.
“We are ‘one club’ and when we told the committee there would be over 400 people, you could see their eyes opening when they realised this is massive,” Leahy said.
Before a ball was kicked, there was one big dance-themed warm-up, the boom box pumping out the tunes.
Ulster LGFA sorted the fixtures and qualified referees. Sports Direct’s sponsorship of Gaelic for Mothers and Others helped with the catering tab. Local businesses chipped in with sponsored water.There were six pitches in operation with games aplenty against teams from other counties thanks to the mixed-up schedule.
“We put on entertainment to hold the girls for longer and that worked,” Leahy said of the important social element.
Senior players Connlan Bradley, Cathal Mulholland and Connor Carville were on hand with bar duties with a few trips to stock up on the ever-dwindling supply of cool Kopparberg.
“We tried to feed them in two batches,” Leahy joked. “It was colossal and I think there was more sweat serving the food than playing the football.
“We are glad we did it. There is a sense of achievement and it is good for the club. Watty Grahams have been in the media this year with the boys getting to the All-Ireland, but it is great that we are one club.
“We are catering for three-year-olds right up to the other end of the age range, men and women. It was a whole club effort, the grounds people, the ladies who helped with the food…we have great volunteers within the club.”
One of the side themes of the day was the constant sharing of contact details and plans for return visits. Gaelic for Mothers and Others is here to stay.
“We played Carrickmore in the last game and it was a good tight one. We used to play them when we were in the Tyrone League,” Leahy said of her playing days.
“We had a good relationship with Carrickmore and always played them in challenge games. Now they are looking a rematch and that should be enjoyable and all part of the banter.”
Carrickmore’s Emma Gormley wasn’t at Saturday’s event, but the feedback her team brought home was all positive. The Tyrone club also had their name in the draw for hosting the festival of football and are keen to have a go when the chance arises again.
With a full squad training on a weekly basis, Gormley feels they were somewhere between a junior club team and a group of players looking for the social scene of recreational football.
It’s their second year of a renaissance. Their registration for a place in the Tyrone Junior League was submitted marginally outside the cut-off time, but they are reconsidering it. Carrickmore is one of those football mad places.
“We just want to play football,” said an enthusiastic Gormley. “They (Carrickmore girls) loved it, the Glen community were brilliant and they had the best day.
“They want to play against other clubs, you can put in the work at training but it is the matches that you love, that’s why they play.”
Carrickmore is like Glen, they’re like all the teams involved. It gives a second chance for a football career.
“It’s the balance, doing the runs with the kids and the free time for themselves where they get to play themselves,” Gormley said of the benefit.
“Girls are reliving their youth through this programme, we’ve 25 girls at training just to play football.
“We also have women from different clubs that have amalgamated into our club perfectly, as if they were there their whole life. The friendships you make are incredible.
“We ran a blitz ourselves in Tyrone and it was great. We gave our girls an objective last Saturday, to collect as many numbers as possible to get games.
“We just want to play football, It is a great organisation to be part of and we are back in the GAA family.”
Carrickmore have games lined up with Emyvale and Ballinascreen in the pipeline. And you can just picture their fantastic facilities hosting teams from all over Ulster someday in the not-too-distant future.
It will be the same as last Saturday. There will be one common theme – putting fun and football in the same sentence.