Striking a balance -Lavey’s double Féile story

By Michael McMullan

OVER the next two weekends, a Lavey cavalcade will journey west as their girls embark on the All-Ireland Féile finals in Connacht.

The camogs will be based in Athenry this weekend before virtually the same group trek back to Roscommon in early July for football duty.

The community has been a hive of activity in recent weeks with fundraising and excitement hand in hand.

Their camogs beat a fancied Swatragh side to win the Derry title. Football has only been going in the club since 2017, but the meteoric rise culminated in a football and camogie Féile double.

There was more glory last week as the footballers saw off Glen to add championship glory to their season.

And it comes on the back of the club’s senior girls winning the junior football title last year, their first season to field a team.

Mary Jo Boyle, a former Derry player and multiple championship winner from her playing days with Glen, has been the driving force behind football since the idea was floated by a number of parents in the parish.

She had three main questions when pitching the idea of getting ladies football off the ground.

Would ladies football have deep enough roots to both form a sub committee and look after its own portion of funding?

Thirdly, there needed to be a sustained level of interest beyond the initial 12 months.

“As well as that, you wouldn’t want to derail from the camogie journey that has been going on Lavey for the last 40 or 50 years,” Boyle added of the early planning stages.

Within two months, football snowballed. Every girl in the primary school wanted to have a go.

“I was struggling to have enough coaches with a ladies football background to match the demand,” she added. “I have spent the last five or six years coaching four teams.”

The support of parents has been huge. Driving kids to games and training. It was all about making it happen. There were “protected” nights for coaching solely on each individual codes.

“Tuesday night is camogie night, football is ladies football night and the pitch is a hub of activity,” added Shauna Kehoe, the club’s camogie chairperson.

“You never want to be in conflict with any other code. You are putting the players and the groups at the forefront, but never encroaching on each other’s territory.”

Forward planning ironed out any clashes coming down the tracks, leaving the girls to concentrate on one thing – playing.

“We all have daughters who will want to be dual players,” added Kehoe. “Why would you want football or camogie to come first? It just had to be a work in progress.”

Not everything runs smoothly, but a foresight and level headed discussions sort the most of it.

The enthusiasm and excitement in Boyle and Kehoe’s voices don’t lie. The Féile buzz is very much alive and the reward for compromise.

It’s all about Lavey. Aside from the actual playing jersey, the gear the Féile players were issued with don’t have the camogie or LGFA crests. Just Lavey.

The funds raised aren’t for camogie or football specifically. It’s the same pot, coming from events like coffee mornings and the 5K run organised in conjunction with the local Termoneeny Running Club.

The players received a special blessing at mass before a bite to eat in the club ahead of a fortnight of memories that will stand the test of time.

Féile is unique. A weekend playing alongside your friends, rolled into family holidays and time away.

Lavey’s success has fed into the county scene. Seven of the girls were involved with the recent u-14 All-Ireland winning team who had Áine McNally in the management team. There was a similar sprinkling of Lavey players on Derry’s successful camogie team last weekend.

Mary Jo Boyle hails the club’s input on the county scene. More faces and ideas can only add to the development squad efforts.

“We also had two players on the u-16 development squad, so for a club like Lavey this is massive when you consider these players are playing dual and are playing county camogie.”

Locally, she agrees how the club has been on the crest of a wave. Girls’ sport has ground to make up in the equality stakes with the boys.

ON THE WAY…Action from Lavey’s Féile camogie win over Swatragh. Picture: Brendan McTaggart

“This double Féile run to the west in the next few weeks has really lifted girls’ sport in Lavey and in the county,” Boyle adds.

While being a ‘blow-in’, the 20 plus years living in Lavey have highlighted the passion for sport, regardless of code.

“That’s me speaking as a mother as well as a coach and a (ladies football) coordinator,” Boyle adds.

“I have a very strong committee and we are pouring hours of our spare time into admin and arranging challenge games outside Derry.

“It’s this relentless commitment…we have to throw everything at them to bring them to a level.”

Are the endless hours and phone calls worth it? Absolutely.

“These girls, they are coming to the table, they are dual and giving every minute themselves, so we are matching that.”

Progress and success don’t come with the clicking of fingers. It’s about getting to as many festivals of football and blitzes as possible. There are no shortcuts.

“We are blessed with that magnificent 3G hall the people before us have built,” Boyle adds. “It allows us to go from playing out on the pitch to switching on the lights and going all winter.”

It saves ferrying players here, there and everywhere over the year. In a sense, the children of Lavey are spoiled. They know nothing else. Hourly slots are booked and filled. With every touch, the skill level improves.

They may take home silverware from the Féile in Connacht and they may not. But the dual story is here to stay.

“If they are putting on a Lavey jersey they are doing well for the club,” Kehoe sums up of girls now having a choice.

“My daughter gets something different from camogie than football, and vice versa. At least there is another option for girls. Maybe they prefer the football or the camogie or they may change their minds halfway through the year.

“It’s giving them another option for sport as well and at the end of the day, the ethos of the GAA is to get them out, get them involved and get them active.”

Success in Connacht would be a huge bonus but the togetherness will lay another layer on the club’s foundations for the future. To quote their club mantra – onwards, upwards.

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