ties that bind

Down memory Lane - the tangible links to the golden era of Kerry ladies football

‘Mom has five All-Ireland medals. We’re finding it difficult enough to win one!’

kerry-players-celebrate-after-the-game Geraldine O'Shea at the heart of the Kerry celebrations on All-Ireland semi-final day. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

A QUICK SCAN through the programme from the All-Ireland ladies football semi-finals shows that just six Kerry players are 29 or over.

The significance? It’s 29 years since the Kingdom were last crowned All-Ireland senior champions, the county’s most recent Brendan Martin Cup lift coming in 1993.

At least 24 of the 30-strong matchday panel from the last day weren’t even born.

The six? Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh is 30, Emma Costello (née Sherwood) and Clodagh O’Connor are 31, Louise Galvin is 35, and brilliant midfield pairing Lorraine Scanlon and Cáit Lynch are both 29.

A look at Kerry’s All-Ireland wins: the first was 1976, they won nine in-a-row from 1982 to 1990, and their most recent was the 1993 triumph. 11 titles leave the traditional kingpins and game’s true aristocrats joint-top of the roll of honour with Cork, as things stand.

Links to that golden era of Kerry ladies football remain, the most tangible of all selector Geraldine O’Shea, who lit up the ’93 final as a teenager against Laois in Croke Park.

“One of the best footballers that ever graced a pitch,” as captain Anna Galvin beamed ahead of today’s showdown against Meath [throw-in 4pm, live on TG4].

“Geraldine is the only one around the panel with an All-Ireland medal in her pocket, a ladies All-Ireland medal anyway,” joint-manager Declan Quill went on.

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“She was 16 years of age and she scored 1-2 or 1-3 here that day against Laois. A phenomenal player in her time. Geraldine would tell you she thought it was coming around every year, that by the time she was 30, she’d have five or six All-Ireland medals in her pocket. It never happened again for her, never won one again, but has her one obviously.

“When I think of how successful the Kerry ladies have been — up there joint-top of the roll of honour — it’s massive testament of how the Kerry ladies used to be. We’d love to create a bit more history on Sunday, that’s what this group want to do.”

There are more ties that bind. Lorraine Scanlon’s mother, Mary (née Lane) was involved in five of the All-Ireland successes through the 80s. 

In 2018, Lorraine won her first All-Star award, following in Mary’s footsteps 30 years later. Mary was honoured after the 1987 All-Ireland win over Westmeath.

In an interview with this writer for the 2018 Winter edition of the LGFA’s Peil Magazine, Lorraine recalled: “I think Mom was more excited than me! She was over the moon.

“It’s nice alright to have the two of us acknowledged in the one family. It’s weird the way it worked out as well. I think Dad feels like the odd person out now!”

In that same piece, Lorraine spoke about only seeing her mother play football competitively once, on a video cassette, when she captained the county to ’87 glory.

She vaguely remembered a charity match appearance one day, but a “bad auld kee” held her back, her daughter laughed.

“She’d often come out for the auld kick,”  Scanlon added, whilst reflecting on her mother’s influence on her career. “Her claim to fame is that she kicked a 45 over the bar in Croke Park or something like that! She gave us a few demonstrations of that alright.

“You hear the stories about Mom, when you’re younger you don’t really appreciate it that much. It’s only later you realise the magnitude of what that team achieved. They won nine in-a-row. Mom has five All-Ireland medals. We’re finding it difficult enough to win one! I appreciate it more now, what she achieved.

“Even people from the locality would be talking about her when she was playing. From what I hear, she was a very strong player.

“We don’t like to give her too much praise at home because she’d be getting a big head! She often reminds us of all she’s achieved but she’s said it so much now, myself and Dad don’t take much notice of her any more. We’re like, ‘Ah yeah, be quiet!’”

There are a few other interesting parallels today: Kerry beat Wexford in three of those finals and Laois in four, these two counties contesting the intermediate decider in Croke Park this afternoon.

Meath are the opposition in the senior showpiece, the Royal county the adopted home of Eileen Lawlor (Dardis), a member of the nine-in-a-row winning team and holder of 10 All-Ireland senior medals, captain in 1993.

As documented in an interesting article in 2020, Lawlor settled in Summerhill and started up the ladies’ club with her husband, Brendan. Meath full-back Mary Kate Lynch and panel member Aisling McCabe are both products of the Summerhill club.

Anna Galvin can’t help but smile when that golden era is put to her, a story from the Kerry-Dublin men’s semi-final springing to mind. It was the day after her side edged out Armagh in the quarter-final, and the Kingdom contingent were on cloud nine at HQ.

Eileen 1 Kerry captain Eileen Lawlor (Dardis) celebrates after the 1993 All-Ireland ladies football final.

“I was inside with Mary Jo [Curran]. She was just buzzing, so delighted, so excited. I’d have played football with her daughter, who is now going through a cruciate injury.

“It’s just amazing. She was involved in backroom teams as well. She’s just so excited. There was no major level of disappointment from them that we haven’t been able to get back there. They are just so thrilled that we are doing it this year, and that we’re on the path returning to Croke Park on All-Ireland final day.

“When I’ve ever spoken to them, Nora Hallissey… Lorraine Scanlon’s Mom is a gas woman. The likes of Marie Teahan, what would she be, Fitzgerald?

“They are just so excited for us.”

And why wouldn’t they be? It’s showtime.

A first All-Ireland final appearance since 2012 lies ahead, with just six survivors from that panel involved today: Anna and Louise Galvin, Scanlon, Ní Mhuircheartaigh, Lynch and Costello.

With one mini-drought ended in the county, the focus is on the next.

“Recently they have been saying it a bit more, ‘Jesus, its nearly 30 years,’” Galvin concludes.

“And maybe that is because it’s 10 years since we have been back there — that is within all of our lifetimes and resonates a bit more because we actually remember those games and lots of the girls who are playing were at those games with their little baby faces, it’s gas.

“Of course, these things you think about them, but Cork and Dublin were the pinnacle for so long and hopefully we can put on a really good spectacle this year with two teams that are neither Cork or Dublin.”

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