Former Portlaoise AFC player and Irish international Ciamh Dollard will be coming to Rossleighan to meet with our underage girls teams next week. We caught up with her recently to hear her memories of PAFC.
Sport was a passion of Ciamh’s from an early age. She began playing Gaelic Football in Scoil Bhríde in 4th class and from there transitioned onto Portlaoise Ladies Gaelic Football club as an 8 year old. Around this time Marie Christie had started up a girls’ team at Portlaoise AFC and a number of Ciamh’s teammates at the time were involved. So at the start of the second year of Marie’s team, she decided to follow her friends down to Rossleighan.
“It was U9 or U10, and Marie used to pick us up and drop us off from training” Ciamh recalls. Nerves weren’t a problem starting out as she already knew most of the girls on the team. Things were different in Rossleighan at that time though, there was no astro turf pitch and training took place on the back pitch where she soon found herself standing into the small goals as a keeper, a position she has kept since. The clubhouse didn’t have an upstairs at the time and the dressing rooms weren’t done up. Despite this, they were still “good facilities”.
The first game that Ciamh played in was against Mountmellick at U11. A couple of teammates were missing and she admits “a few players would have been a little bit illegal, we would have been calling Rebecca Tanya and that!” No trouble came of it though and a 5-0 win was had in what was to be the beginning of a journey all the way up through the ages for this group of girls.
Aishling Kehoe, Louise Bergin, Ellen Healy, Alison Taylor, Maeve Delaney, Tanya Maher, Niamh Hyland, Zara Healy, Rebecca Kelly, and Nicole Dunphy: just some of the names Ciamh listed as having played with throughout the years. A similar stellar cast of volunteers coached and helped out with the team too; Marie Christie, Catherine Bergin, Henry Tobin, Ray Creighton, Andy Dollard to name but a few. Ciamh glowed about the close friendships that were formed within this group over a journey which went from U9 to senior football in the Kilkenny league. A number of Ciamh’s family were also involved in the club.
Stand out games for Ciamh included an U11 cup game in Killeigh that went to penalties, where Aishling Kehoe, (“who wouldn’t have been the most reliable for penalties, not back then anyway!”) blazed hers over the bar. Winning the Kilkenny league was “a big achievement”, as was a massive cup final win in Kilkenny too.
It was a senior cup final in the Watershed against big rivals Tullaroan. What made it really stand out for Ciamh was the fact that half of the team were involved in a Leinster Ladies Football Final directly beforehand! The girls lost the football match so victory in the soccer final was all the sweeter! Big games and the “fantastic craic” as Ciamh put it were stand out memories with PAFC. She laughs now about how Niamh Hyland and herself weren’t even allowed stand together at training for chatting too much!
At the same time as playing with PAFC Ciamh was playing away with the Midlands and South Leinster selections too. This eventually resulted in U15 Ireland trials in 2007. They travelled away to Germany on a training camp that year but Ciamh didn’t expect game time – “You don’t really expect to get games in your first year”.
This first game came against France in an U17 friendly in Castlebar. A further training camp followed in Portugal but a trip to Poland didn’t materialise due to a knee injury. Despite the possibility of missing out on a full cap Ciamh looks back quite positively about it, “it wasn’t to be!”
The first full cap came in 2010 in a European Championship Qualifier game against Russia in Croatia. The preparation to get to this point was huge, with Ciamh noting high nutrition and hydration expectations in particular. However she remembers it as an amazing experience to get to pit herself against some of the best players in the world and encourages all young players to “aim for the top”. Three more caps followed in 2010.
Ciamh was back playing with PAFC two years ago and is currently with the Army where she plays now. Big changes had come over the club by her return with the astro turf and renovated grass fields amongst them. Ciamh was also very complementary of the underage structures put in place by Sylvia Gee and the work of Clodagh Donovan, another former teammate, with a number of groups.
Ciamh was particularly appreciative of the discipline and teamwork she learned over her time with PAFC, so it will be great to see her back in Rossleighan again to pass these values onto the next generation!