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'When you mentioned you were going training, people would laugh at you'

Galway’s Siobhán Divilly on how ladies football went from ‘non-existent’ to where it is now and her decision to take a year out in 2019.

Galway and NUIG star Siobhan Divilly.
Galway and NUIG star Siobhan Divilly.
Image: Sportsfile.

EVERYTHING IS ON the up, says Siobhán Divilly.

The Galway and NUIG star, like most, feels that ladies football has come on leaps and bounds over the past few years. The profile has risen ten-fold, while matters both on and off the pitch have come on something serious.

In the past two or three years alone, the standard has risen a huge amount. There’s been much more emphasis placed on basic skills, while strength and conditioning has led to increased physicality, speed and intensity, making it a much more attractive game to watch.

There’s been more media coverage and sponsorship, helping gather a higher interest which results in improving attendances year on year. Just look at the past two All-Ireland final days: 50,151 in 2018 and 46,286 in 2017. 

Of course, there’s work to be done to spread that out through the year rather than just at the marquee event but bit by bit, everything is on the up.

“It’s massive,” 20-year-old Divilly said at the launch of the Gourmet Food Parlour HEC Ladies Football Championships yesterday

“A couple of years ago nobody had heard about ladies football. When you mentioned you were going training, people would laugh at you. It was non-existent.

“But now with the increased media and everyone hearing about it, it’s great for the sport. There are bigger crowds at games, we’re getting recognition.

“We are getting fed maybe after training which wasn’t a thing, getting more gear which sounds like it’s not important but you do look like a bit of a fool if you turn up to a match and everyone is like multi-coloured.

“It just makes it more professional and it’s even the appeal of the sport, more people are starting to play and it’s bringing up the standard for everyone else in the country.”

gtown Galway celebrating their 2018 Connacht final win over Mayo.

She’d love to see it one day “on a level playing field” with the men, but understands that the GAA’s profile at present means that things remain the way they are. Ladies football is growing though, which pleases her.

Over the past few months in particular there’s been comparisons made between ladies football and camogie; their respective standards and profiles, and how the latter is in the doldrums while ladies football thrives. 

As Dublin camogie star Eve O’Brien told The42 in October when she delivered a passionate argument for change, “ladies football has built itself into this really powerful brand. Testament is the 51,000 in Croke Park, that kind of thing.

“With camogie, as a sport in general, it’s just not getting the same level of interest or attendance at games.”

Divilly feels that her code is ahead in terms of profile and publicity, but enjoys camogie as a spectacle and feels that some of the criticism shipped of late is unfair.

“I went to my first camogie match last year and the standard it was absolutely unbelievable like,” she continues, “the effort that some of the girls but it is crazy.

“In Galway, in particular, they’d be playing both sports and they value both sports as the same. Maybe ladies football gets a bit more coverage and it’s recognised more. But camogie, from what I think, is just as good as ladies football and just as enjoyable to watch as ladies football, and hurling and men’s football.”

The Tribeswomen, who are under the watch of a new management team headed by Tim Rabitt this year, were the only side to beat back-to-back All-Ireland champions Dublin in competitive action in 2018. 

Olivia Divilly and Noelle Healy Siobhán's older sister Olivia facing Dublin last year. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

They met on three occasions, with Mick Bohan’s Sky Blues coming out on top in the league and championship semi-finals, but Galway triumphed in the round-robin stages of the league.

That, and the fact that they were only beaten by a late, late Nicole Owens goal in the first semi-final meeting, will only drive them on in 2019 to go further and further. They’ve pushed them close before, they can do it again. 

Divilly, though, won’t be part of that. She’s taking a year away to focus on college and football with NUIG and her club Kilkerrin-Clonberne, while she’s heading Stateside on a J1 this summer. With her older sister, Olivia, flying the Divilly flag, she’ll keep a close eye.

“I still have a strong interest in it,” she smiles. “Definitely from being there last year, the talent is all there. Maybe we are still a bit young yet but we’re trying to reach the heights of the Dublin’s and the Cork’s and even Mayo.

“From this year as an outsider and last year as a player, I completely think that Galway have the players and the capabilities.

“The work just needs to be put into everything throughout the year and they can definitely be in Croke Park in September to compete for the All-Ireland.”

She’s torn between San Francisco and Chicago at the minute for her summer adventure but one thing’s for sure, she’s definitely going to play football over there.

While she’ll miss the maroon jersey, it’s something she’s always wanted to do, and knows it’ll be worth it in the long run.

“It’s a decision that has been coming for a few years,” Divilly concedes. “It’s my last summer that I’m going to be able to go travelling.

kkcl Divilly won a Connacht club title with Kilkerrin Clonberne in 2018.

“During last year I was saying ‘I’m going to do it’ and I just had to do it or I’d regret it and I’d probably be annoyed playing football. I’d be blaming football in the future, so I am just going to take the summer off and go to America and then come back for club in the winter and come back next year and hopefully have the hunger to go again.”

She concludes, on how the year out will help her with mental space:

“You do get sick of it. Like last year, for the beginning of the year it was college and pre-season county, then summer all county, and then winter we were straight back into club then our club went all the way to the middle of November,” she says, smiling as she thinks of that Connacht final win.

“We had no break for a solid year and you love the sport and everything, but you don’t get to see your friends outside the sport as much as you’d like.

“Maybe the summer will be a good chance to reignite that hunger to come back [to county].”

Originally at 17.42

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Emma Duffy

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