THE first two Tyrone Senior Ladies captains met up recently at Garvaghey as part of the Tyrone LGFA 30th anniversary celebrations this year.
Hayley Boyle and Ailish Gildernew lined out together in the first Tyrone Ladies senior squad to take to the field back in 1992 and at the reunion get together the former county team-mates were able to reminsce and share some stories and banter from yesteryear.
“ It’s as if someone just hit the play button again,” smiled the two players who took the pioneering steps for the game in Tyrone some thirty years ago. “ We just fell back into the banter and craic.”
While they laughed and reminisced they could not agree as to who was the first captain and who exactly took the toss against Armagh in a challenge game at Grange in the Spring of 1992 and some weeks later against the Orchard side again at Healy Park in their first National League game.
Hayley explained: “I think there was no captain as such. One of us took the toss but it was either me or Ailish, I can’t remember but it wasn’t a big thing, it was about playing,” said the former top goalkeeper recalling those formative years of the inter county game.
Tyrone famously played in the green of the Galbally Oonagh Celts in that first game and as Ailish recalls it was quite the gather up in terms of players.
“We had girls from all the teams in Tyrone, all seven clubs had players in the squad at Grange. It was a case of turning up and playing but after that we were a bit more organised with training at Carrickmore. Nothing like today’s teams though but it was all new to us all and great craic.
This was a viewpoint echoed by Hayley.
“ Yes it was about playing football. We were playing with our clubs but this was a chance to play for the County. I remember those jerseys and Ailish is right there were players from everywhere, some didn’t come back and others came in but one thing is for sure we had great fun, we made friends for life.”
Friends for life is certainly evident as the players laugh at the various stories and the antics from the first couple of years and of course many tales that could never be repeated -involving go-carts in Carrickmore, tractors in Greencastle and the odd strangely attired team mate.
As that first season unfolded there was some exciting football played by the Red Hands, by now in their own shirts and it was certainly an adventure for this ‘band of sisters’.
“ Some of us had been playing football for a few years.” confirmed Ailish. “Galbally had been in the Martin Hurson Cup and at Aghaloo we had got going too. Yet we all came together for Tyrone, PJ Donnelly, Paddy Donnelly, Sean Mc Elroy, John Joe Campbell, Rosemary Carson and I think Dan Mc Caffrey too were working to get things moving behind the scenes.
“ Credit to everyone we got going. I remember though we lost in the Ulster Championship to Monaghan although we did draw a game in the league,” added the Aghaloo lady whose doing her bit with underage coaching right now at her club who are making real strides in the ladies game.
Hayley is also back at Galbally although as they walk around the home of the GAA in the county at Garvaghey and chat with current Tyrone captain Niamh O’Neill and vice-captain Emma Hegarty they are in agreement that the game has changed.
“It certainly has,” stressed Haley. “ The style of football is so fast now and the players are better looked after. They have what they need and the sport has made great inroads toward integration.”
Ailish did admit there’s more to be done: “ We have seen a real change in attitude. We took the game seriously when we played but there were those who had something to say, negative stuff and sometimes it still happens but these girls are now real role models and maybe we should have a lot more integration.”
Hayley remains positive about the future of the ladies game in Tyrone.
“ I am back now in Galbally and am involved with the wee ones. It’s a good place to start and we are building,” confirmed Boyle a former Armagh manager who many would like to see involved in some coaching role in her native County.
“ Tyrone are certainly on the right road, winning the A-ll Ireland a couple of years ago was massive. I know winning in Ulster was big for us and it gave football a boost, it won’t be long until our girls are back winning senior titles again.”
For now the two former Captains will focus on the club scene and both are delighted with the progress made in the past thirty years.
“We had a couple of years football with the likes of Carrickmore but compare it to now it’s worlds apart but I have to say well done to everyone who had the foresight to get football to where it is now.
“Galbally have had success and more to come,” smiles Boyle while Ailish admitted it’s been a good few years for Aghaloo too.
“ Sadly we hadn’t much success in the early years but the young girls kick started things for us a few years ago and the seniors had a great 2021, we are going the right way.”
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