NEXT WEEKEND’S ALL-IRELAND ladies junior club football final will be contested by a club from Edinburgh for the very first time.
Dunedin Connollys defeated St Helens of Longford in the semi-final on 17 November and now take on Na Gaeil of Kerry on Saturday after what has been a truly remarkable year.
While the mens side has been running since 1988, the ladies formed in 1998 and, as they were the only main club in Scotland, entered the university league — which they went on to win.
However, a rule change last year meant they were no longer permitted to take part. That led to them playing in Sevens tournaments and friendlies in England but without competitive games, the team looked into other possibilities.
“We got invited to the Paidi O Se tournament in Kerry and that’s what kicked it all off,” said Aishling Kavanagh, a former soccer player witch Peamount United who took up ladies football when she moved to the Scottish capital to study physiotherapy in 2011.
“We went to Dingle for the laugh really but ended up winning the tournament. When we came back we decided we’d like to enter the British championship.
“The big thing for us was that more and more girls started moving over. When I joined about two years ago, there were five and six girls turning up to training. We were playing games with 12 players.
“But the success began to keep people interested and more players came along. Now we have something like 32 on the panel. It has built from there.”
Incredibly, they saw off a side from Liverpool in the British championship final before upsetting the odds against Ulster champions Shane O’Neills in the quarter-final and St Helens at the last four stage.
Currently the team is made up of Irish ex-pats from all corners of the country as well as one Scot and a Canadian.
“We’ve got a number of ex-county players who have played in All-Ireland finals in Croke Park and others who have only recently taken up the sport.”
The main stumbling block for the club has been paying their enormous travel expenses as they get very limited funding from LGFA. They are lucky enough to have a sponsor in the local Irish pub Malones but games in Birmingham and Coventry have resulted in significant costs.
That is the hard part,” explains Kavanagh. “We’re at the stage where we’re in the red financially and are trying to drum up as much sponsorship as possible.
“To play the semi-final it cost us £4,000 and we still owe money for that. For the final it is going to cost us the guts of £5,000 and we haven’t got that yet. We’re hoping for funds to come in from the British Council and the LGFA but we’re going to collect our own money and put it towards it. ”
Fundraising efforts have included pub quizzes, bake sales and every member of the panel running a half marathon.
While the club are optimistic about finding the money needed to travel to Laois for next Saturday’s final, their level of success means competing next year could prove difficult given how much it costs.
“The girls will all pull together and get us to the final but whatever happens, win or lose, it’s about keeping interested next year and the year after. Every GAA club outside Ireland is your first port of call when you move abroad.
“All the girls did the same as myself by coming along to meet new people and we’ve somehow wound up in an All-Ireland final.”
Crettyard in Laois is the venue for the final where Munster champions Na Gaeil of Tralee stand in the way. And Kavanagh says many of the girls’ families will make the effort to show their support to the ‘exiles’.
“Happily enough, it’s quite central. For a club like ourselves travelling over our own support will be very important. So we’re trying to get as many out on the day as possible.”
For information about joining Dunedin or donating to their cause, visit their website or contact Declan Cullinane at firstname.lastname@example.org