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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 14 November, 2018
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23 years with Wexford, between the posts for that Steph Roche goal and chasing national glory

Mary Rose Kelly captains Wexford as they face Meath in the Division 3 league final today.

“I DON’T KNOW what you’re talking about?” Wexford goalkeeper Mary Rose Kelly grins as a certain goal is brought up in conversation.

Tipperary v Wexford - Lidl Ladies Football National League Div 3 Final Mary Rose Kelly. Source: Piaras Ó Mídheach/SPORTSFILE

“Cora Staunton, no? I don’t remember that one!”

This goal was scored on the soccer field though and went on to be nominated for a Fifa Puskas Award. Stephanie Roche, lining out for Peamount United in the Women’s National League (WNL), scored the spectacular effort and it was Kelly between the posts for Wexford Youths that day.

“It’s not great, is it? No,” she laughs when the whole viral element is mentioned.

“I don’t like when it’s brought up! Fabulous, fabulous goal by Stephanie.”

She didn’t think it was going in, sure no one did. The way Roche caught the ball on her foot, the two keepie-uppies to control, the turn, and then smashing the volley home.

There was a bit of stick from her team-mates, Kelly jokes, and even though she might not like being reminded of it, she’s well fit to hold her own and shift the blame elsewhere. Of course, there’s no hard feelings.

She’s full of nothing but glowing praise at the end of the day. Humble in victory, humble in defeat.

“Sure look, isn’t it fabulous for ladies sport? For soccer and for Stephanie, like. She’s gone from strength to strength on the back of it, which she should have. It’s promoted ladies sport.

“Like, to think that a goal scored in a women’s game in Ireland can contest that award, you know like, it’s insane and it had to bring the profile of women’s sport up. You can never complain because it’s so hard to build that up.”

And Kelly knows that better than anyone. She’s not 100% sure but she reckons she made her Wexford senior debut in 1995.

“I did take a few years out in between,” she adds. “I went and played National League soccer for a while. But yeah, I suppose for… fairly much, what’s that 23 years?”

There was just one year in which she opted to play both codes at the same time, and that was in 2014. Wexford beat New York to lift the All-Ireland junior crown in Croke Park, while Youths won the WNL that same campaign.

It was, of course, a tricky balancing act but she got there.

“In fairness I had two very understanding managers,” she explains.

“It’s happened over the years with camogie and football where they both expect you to give 100% — and you can’t. You’ll burn yourself out so you need to have that bit of conversation between management.

“But I think when you come to the higher level you do have to pick one or the other. It seems to be less and less likely (to manage both nowadays). Just the level has gone up so much and what’s required from you.”

Mary Rose Kelly celebrates with her teammates after wining the penalty shoot-out The 2015 Women's FAI Cup final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Kelly adds, of her decision making between soccer and Gaelic through the years:

“I love both but I was always ingrained and brought up through Gaelic football and I think that’s where I was always going to finish off my career, so it’s kind of right that I’m back playing it.”

Interestingly, she’s never played camogie, especially given the fact that she comes from parts where dual is so prevalent. It’s always been the two big ball games.

There has been plenty of success through the years across both disciplines, but one occasion in particular perhaps stands out — 2014.

“That was the first for the county,” she says of the glorious junior All-Ireland win.

“We were there in 2007 (intermediate) against Leitrim and we lost. We seemed to lose a bit of momentum after that and camogie excelled and we had a lot of dual players. A lot of those went to camogie and went on to win four All-Irelands after that.

“We seemed to have to regroup a little bit and we lost a lot of players that had given so many years. They bowed out after that day.”

She had a great game in the 2014 win over New York, but humble and unassuming as ever, shifts the credit towards her teammates.

One question though: why keep going through the years?

“Stupidity,” she laughs.

“I suppose the love of the game. You’re always trying to excel better at yourself and I don’t think we’ve ever justified ourselves in Wexford as what we probably should have. We’ve always had great players but there’s always been something that’s been a miss for the last few years.

“We came so close against Tipperary last year and look at where they’ve gone. We know that we’re at that level and to see how they’ve progressed that we could push it to that level.”

Tipperary, of course, beat Wexford in the Division 3 Lidl Ladies National League Division 3 final after a replay last year and secured promotion to the second tier.

In September, they capped an unbeaten 2017 by lifting the All-Ireland intermediate title, and yesterday they secured Division 1 football for 2019 as they beat Cavan by a single point in the Division 2 showpiece.

All of the grades were so competitive this year, the gap is getting tighter and tighter, Kelly — who works for her family’s furniture business — agrees. And one thing that really pleases her is that Wexford are moving in the right direction. The only way is up.

“Definitely,” she smiles. “Having consistency in the manager for a couple of years (helps).

“Anthony was there last year and he’s back again this year. You need some sort of consistency there for them to get to know the players and for the players to get to know how the manager wants to play.”

Emma Clarke with Marguerite Doyle and Mary Rose Kelly The 2014 All-Ireland junior final. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

And it all boils down to the Divison 3 decider in St Brendan’s Park, Birr later today (throw-in 4pm).

They’ve had a strong campaign to date, and beat their final opponents Meath in the group stages, but they’re most definitely not taking that for granted. That could have gone either way at the end of the day.

“Meath have been very strong. They have fabulous scoring power. If you look at any of their scorelines, they’re racking up the scores. We wouldn’t take Meath lightly at all.

“At the start of the league it’s what you’re aiming for at the end of it, to be in a final. And to try and get promotion, I think it’s been one of our aims for the last few years.

“We fell short of it last year to get promotion up to hopefully Division 2. I suppose we have our lash on Monday and we just need to take it.”

And finally, just how much would it mean to Kelly to get her hands on that trophy later today, to secure that silverware in her 23rd year, and of course promotion?

“It means everything. It’s what you set out for at the start of the year to have some silverware. If you want to compete at senior, you have to be playing in Division 2 football at least. That’s the first step on a journey for us this year please God.”

The only way is up.


Source: The42 Podcasts/SoundCloud

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