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Dublin: 5°C Friday 25 September 2020

'For the two of us to pick up our first All-Stars on the same night was extra special'

Galway and Kilkerrin-Clonberne twins Louise and Nicola Ward are hoping for a week of firsts as they line out in the All-Ireland club final on Saturday.

WE’RE HOPING IT will be a week of firsts: first All-Star and first club All-Ireland, hopefully – Kilkerrin-Clonberne captain Louise Ward.

Galway’s twin sisters Louise and Nicola Ward were the talk of the 2019 TG4 Ladies Football All-Star Awards on Saturday night at Dublin’s City West Hotel.

tg4-all-ireland-ladies-football-all-stars-awards Louise and Nicola Ward with their All-Star awards on Saturday night. Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

With a first-ever All-Ireland senior club final exactly a week later, the Kilkerrin-Clonberne duo were understandably keeping a low profile while others were enjoying a drink or two, but the entire focus was on them after the team was named.

At number five, Nicola, and at number eight, Louise.

The first set of twin sisters named in an All-Star team since Waterford’s O’Ryan twins, Martina and Geraldine, in 1992.

“I wasn’t even born then,” Louise laughed at this afternoon’s All-Ireland club finals captains’ day in Croke Park.

What an absolute whirlwind week, with the events of Saturday gone still only sinking in.

One you really couldn’t write.

“We had a great night on Saturday,” the club captain begins. “For the two of us to pick up the awards together was extra special. Mam and Dad were delighted. We’re hoping it’ll be a week of firsts: first All-Star and first club All-Ireland, hopefully.

“We know it’s going to be tough the next day but we’re delighted to get that opportunity to be there.”

Likewise, she was delighted to just be there on Saturday night. 

In conversation with The42 recently, Ward discussed how nice it was to be recognised at the end of the year, and how big of an achievement it was to be nominated alone. 

She echoed those sentiments today, as she described the feeling of pride she felt when her sister’s name was announced. Her modesty shines through, and you get the sense that Louise is almost happier for Nicola than she is for herself.

“To get the nomination was massive, and the get the Player of the Year nomination too was huge because it’s chosen by your peers,” she said in relation to her own achievements first.

tg4-all-ireland-ladies-football-all-stars-awards Galway's 2019 All-Stars Sinéad Burke, Louise and Nicola Ward and Tracey Leonard. Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

“I was delighted for Nicola, coming from the injury as well, it was touch and go for a while. She’d done a lot of damage to her knee. For her to get it after all the work she’d put in… credit where credit is due.

“At that stage, I was just happy out until my name was called. Dad was there celebrating in the corner. For the two of us to pick up our first All-Stars on the same night was nice.”

A special one, indeed, shared in the company of extended family and friends, with two of their Galway team-mates, Sinéad Burke and Tracey Leonard, also honoured.

A trip to Austin now beckons with the Tour announced for March 2020: “I’ve always wanted to go to Texas, I was like, ‘I’ll write out a bucket list there — Texas first!’

“We had a great night but we had to take it easy. We came down for club training on Sunday. We had to be for two, it was back to reality straight away.

“No complaints at all,” she grins. “That’s where you want to be.”

Their father, Willie — “the happiest man in Ireland” Saturday night, Louise claims; “he was really proud, our top celebrator at the table” — started them out, with Louise taking to the football before Nicola originally. 

Now, they’re two of the country’s top stars. 

Destined for the biggest stage from an early age, they’ve soldiered together year on year in the maroon of Galway and the red of Kilkerrin-Clonberne.

And their relationship on the field is as close as it is off it.

“From playing with each other for so long, you do have that natural connection,” Louise smiles. “When she has the ball, you nearly know what she’s going to do with it.

“You know whether you need to run to support her or if you can let her off. Normally, if I see her passing me out, I know either to sit back where she was or go and support her.

louise-ward Louise Ward at today's captain's day. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“We don’t even have to tell each other.”

One thing’s for sure: their defensive/midfield partnership will be absolutely key if Kilkerrin-Clonberne are to dethrone reigning champions Mourneabbey at Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds on Saturday.

Nicola’s hounding and harrying from centre-half back is absolutely crucial, while Louise’s trojan work around the middle and cutting runs through opposing defences is also hugely important. Both are handy for a score or two, too. 

In true calm Ward fashion, they’ll treat it like any other game. 

After four heartbreaking semi-final defeats, just being in a first senior final is a remarkable achievement. 

“To even get across the semi-final line was massive,” Ward nods. “We suffered so many defeats. Even last year, we were physically beaten by Mourneabbey — there’s no two ways about it. 

“We did feel that we had a lot of chances as well. We looked back at the stats and it was nine points from nearly 30 chances which is not good enough to win a game, that was never going to win a game. 

“Kevin [Reidy] said that at one stage in the second half, three girls passed the ball to each other and they were all 15-years-old.

“This year, all the girls are a year older and a year wiser, and we’re happy with our form. We’re hoping we can carry that into the next day. We’re just going to treat it as another game and if we do perform, we’ll be there or thereabouts.”

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She’s well aware of Mourneabbey’s star-studded side and their big names — they have three 2018 All-Stars in their ranks in Ciara and Doireann O’Sullivan, and Noelle Healy.

But it’s testament to the work done in Kilkerrin-Clonberne that all four of their own county players were nominated for All-Star awards this year.

“It was massive for our club, for Lisa Murphy and Olivia [Divilly] as well,” the physiotherapist adds.

“Even just to get the nomination is something special. You’re in the top three in your position on the pitch. They had a great night and they’ve put in so much work with Galway.”

louise Ward with her Kilkerrin-Clonberne team last year.

Likewise, with the club.

Ward speaks glowingly of her team-mates and the set-up; the two rural parishes, the club as a whole and the colossal work being done across the board to get them where they are.

“You can see it’s a real community thing because everybody’s behind us,” she notes. “It’s what brings the two parishes together as well, the GAA. It’s a nice occasion for everyone.”

So there’s a real buzz around the area. 

Indeed, she concludes.

“People can’t do enough for us, they’re so good. The support has been so good all year. To finally get to an All-Ireland is massive as well for the community, you can really feel all the support.

“There’s flags and banners and everything going up in both sets of parishes, so I think there’ll be good support. The fact that it’s in Limerick, more people will travel.

“If we do win it, there’d be massive celebrations, I’d say there’ll be nobody left in the two parishes this weekend!”

That’s what it’s all about, after all.

And it would really top an already unforgettable week for the Ward twins.

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Emma Duffy

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