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Dublin: 2 °C Saturday 14 December, 2019

'You're told, 'You can't play with us because you're a girl.' Then you just want to show them how good you are'

Amy Gavin Mangan and Offaly’s Naomh Ciarán are ready for their first All-Ireland final tomorrow.

Naomh Ciarán star Amy Gavin Mangan.
Naomh Ciarán star Amy Gavin Mangan.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

SHE SAYS THAT she can’t wait for this week be over already because of the nerves, but truth be told, Amy Gavin Mangan never wants the magical journey Naomh Ciarán are on to end. 

Tomorrow, the Offaly kingpins line out in their first-ever All-Ireland final, and make history as the first Faithful county ladies club to do so. Their opposition, Naomh Pól of Antrim, are in the same boat so we’re in for a novel decider at Cavan’s Breffni Park [throw-in 2.30pm, live on LGFA Facebook].

The West Offaly amalgamation side is still in its infancy — not even 10 years old, Gavin Mangan reckons — with the majority of the team in their late teens and early twenties. In fact, the eldest player on the team is still only 30, and then there’s a massive gap to 23.

They’ve built from underage right the way up, and now it’s beginning to bear fruit at adult level.

For industrious midfielder Gavin Mangan, it all started out at home. But it was moreso her siblings than her parents that got her into it.

“Well, Dad’s from England and Mam’s from Dublin,” she explains. “They didn’t have a huge GAA background. I had four brothers so you’re going to be bet out into the garden, you’re going to be told, ‘Come out here’. 

“I’m the youngest — well with a twin — and you’re told, ‘You can’t play with us because you’re a girl.’ Then you just want to show them how good you are, to be like, ‘No, I’m better than you, I can actually play.’”

That, she most definitely can. 

And she proved it fairly quickly from a young age. 

tipperary-v-offaly-lidl-ladies-football-national-league-division-3-semi-final Facing Tipperary in 2017. Source: Piaras Ó Mídheach/SPORTSFILE

She’s asked if she’s always played with Naomh Ciarán and her immediate answer is yes, but then she laughs.

“Well, it’s a bit controversial,” the Offaly star begins. “When I was very young, there was a woman training us in primary school. She realised that I could play football, so she brought me to Clara — the home of Shane Lowry.

“I didn’t really enjoy playing football there, I didn’t really enjoy playing with the girls. I had four brothers and just loved lads football. I stopped playing there and played boys football up until U12s. 

“Then one of the other girls said I should come and play with Ferbane/Doon/Shannonbridge, as it was called at the time. I went there and just loved it from the get-go; loved how competitive it was, loved the training and everything from it really. The atmosphere at training just made me feel so at home.

“That gap from playing with Clara to Naomh Ciarán was about four years; enough time for me to realise that I needed to play ladies football.”

And she hasn’t looked back since. 

Gavin Mangan is in her third year in Dublin City University [DCU], studying Sports Science and Health, and with every word, you can tell just how much she loves it there.

aishling-moloney-and-ava-hartigan Tipperary star Aishling Moloney. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“We’re really lucky, DCU is unbelievable for all sports,” she smiles. “The standard of football there is outrageous. From club and county at home, it’s just a complete step up altogether.

“You’re getting the play with the likes of Aish Moloney, Vicky Wall from Meath — it’s unbelievable, class to say you’ve played with them as well.”

“To be honest, I just like watching her play,” she later adds when she’s asked if playing alongside the likes of Tipperary star and 2019 LGFA intermediate player of the year Aishling Moloney improves her game.

“Seeing her attitude at training, seeing what an All-Ireland winning attitude is like is paying off and brushing off on me.”

She’ll certainly hope it will help her side get over the line tomorrow, as they aim to make an amazing year even better. 

Something that really stands out is their All-Ireland semi-final win over former senior champions Inch Rovers of Cork. A stunning display on home soil is one Gavin Mangan most definitely won’t forget anytime soon. 

“We were just so lucky to have the semi-final at home in Ferbane,” she beams.

“The crowd that got behind us was just never expected. We knew there was going to be a crowd but the faces you see there from all over Offaly that would have no interest in football whatsoever but they just know people on the team. 

aine-tubridy-and-amy-gavin-mangan Wuith Naomh Pól captain Áine Tubridy. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“We didn’t know too much going into the game. You’re playing a Cork team, you know there’s going to be inter-county players, you know they’re going to have All-Irelands under their belt.

“At the end of the day, we just went out and played as if they were nobodies from nowhere and just trusted our backs to mark the big names.”

That strategy most definitely paid dividends, though it took extra-time to decide the thrilling encounter. Naomh Ciarán prevailed on a scoreline of 3-15 to 1-11, with dual star Kate Kenny steering the ship with a masterclass from full-forward. 

Kenny finished with a remarkable 1-10 to her name. It’s also worth noting that a week later, she clocked 3-5 as St Rynagh’s sealed the Leinster intermediate camogie crown. 

“The crowd really helped get us over the line,” Gavin Mangan added on the football semi-final win. “Extra-time came and our fitness really showed. The runs we’d been doing at training were all worth it in the end.

“We just pushed on, upped the gear. Kate Kenny stood up and popped loads over. We were very lucky to get over the line. In extra-time we showed how good we are and just played and enjoyed it really. 

margo-heffernan-and-emily-mahony-tackle-kate-kenny Kate Kenny (10) in action for St Rynagh's. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“We’re lucky that we had such a close game. You’re never going to have an easy All-Ireland semi-final; I know we did win by 10 points in the end but that didn’t show how hard to game was.

“Even in extra-time, myself and Kate turned to each other at one stage, and were like, ‘Jesus, we’re actually winning by a good bit.’ We didn’t realise, we thought we were only up by two or three points. 

“The standard of football we’ve been playing in the last few games is outrageous. It is making us better.”

So one more step.

How much it would mean for this special group.

“We have built from underage all the way up together and had the achievements throughout the year that have really got us together,” she concludes with a smile.

“The buzz around the town is absolutely outrageous. Everyone is behind us. The bunting, the flags, everything is gone up. It’s  really good to see everybody getting behind us.”

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Emma Duffy

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