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16 for 16: The most important Irish athletes of the last 100 years - Kay Mills

No other player in GAA history has more one-sport All-Ireland winning medals than the Dubliner.

Kay Mills wins another All-Ireland.
Kay Mills wins another All-Ireland.
Image: Camogie.ie

KAY MILLS IS the third subject in our series of articles focusing on the most important Irish sportspeople of the last 100 years. The list will include GAA players, Olympians, boxers, golfers and more who dared to dream.

While hurling is synonymous with the likes of Christy Ring and Henry Shefflin, football with Jack O’Shea or Páidí Ó Sé, in terms of success, none of these players can come close to Kathleen ‘Kay’ Mills who won an incredible 15 senior All-Ireland camogie titles with Dublin over a 20 year period.

Mills was born on 8 October 1923 in Inchicore, Dublin and raised by her grandmother from the age of 18 months after her mother died.

Showing a love of sport from an early age, Mills was able to take advantage of the facilities at the Great Southern Railway Club (GSRC) in Inchicore because her father worked for CIE and two pence a week was deducted from his wages to help run it.

Demonstrating promise at table tennis and gymnastics among other sports, it wouldn’t take long for camogie to emerge as her real gift.

Camogie The outfits made camogie a bit more difficult in the early years. Source: Camogie.ie

Indeed, such was her natural talent, at the age of 14 Mills was called into GSRC’s senior panel having played just one match and would make her Dublin senior debut at the age of 16 in 1941.

The Blues reached that year’s All-Ireland final but it would prove to be a baptism of fire for Mills as she not only saw her team beaten on the scoreboard (7-5 to 1-2) but a contemporary report at the time suggests the Rebels beat them up and down the pitch too:

Referee Peg Morris had difficulty controlling a game which also produced the unedifying spectacle of girls indulging in fisticuffs.”

Mills would not have long to wait for success though, winning her first All-Ireland senior camogie title the following year after Dublin overcame Cork 4-1 to 2-2 in a replay at the Mardyke.

Camogie - Belfast, Northern Ireland The success of Mills inspires young camogie players to this day. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

A year later and Mills won her second O’Duffy Cup with Dublin beating Cork at the first time of asking with the then 19-year-old smashing home a goal from 50 yards in a 8-0 to 1-1 victory at Croke Park.

After making it three-in-a-row with a facile 5-4 to no score win over Antrim in 1944, Mills was denied the chance to play in 1945 or 46 after a dispute between Dublin and the Camogie Association.

Normal service was resumed with Mills winning a fourth title in 1948 and, while she sat out the following year, Mills and Dublin owned the first half of the following decade winning six O’Duffy Cups in a row between 1950 and 1955.

Given her place as the most dominant player of her generation, it may come as a surprise that it was only after another All-Ireland win in 1957 that Mills was appointed Dublin captain.

The then 35-year-old didn’t let the gig phase her, however, as she took her side to yet another championship.

Three more titles would follow, the last of which came in 1961 on the day of her 38th birthday in what would prove to be her final appearance for Dublin.

Down supporters celebrate with the Kay Mills cup Down celebrate with the Kay Mills Cup. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Mills died in 1996, three months short of her 73rd birthday but her legacy lives on.

As the then most decorated player in GAA history, it came as no surprise when she was posthumously named in the camogie Team of the Century in 2004 and, since 2010, the winners of the All-Ireland junior camogie championship find themselves lifting the Kay Mills Cup.

Over the next four months, in association with Allianz Insurance, we’ll be profiling the 16 most important Irish athletes of the last 100 years. 

Allianz Insurance — The world belongs to those who dare.

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