By Daire Walsh
They may have suffered heartbreak with their native county in the TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Football Championship decider at Croke Park back in August, but Laurie Ryan and her Clare colleague Chloe Moloney subsequently enjoyed a happy ending to 2023 in another sporting code.
Just over three months on from a defeat at the hands of Kildare in GAA HQ, Ryan captained Athlone Town to a breakthrough Women’s FAI Cup title following a penalty shootout victory over Shelbourne – who had defeated the Midlanders in the competition’s 2022 showpiece. Along the way, Athlone had overcome a stern challenge posed by a Peamount United side that featured the aforementioned Moloney.
Yet the Kilmurry Ibrickane woman also ended the domestic soccer season with silverware to show for her efforts as the Dublin-based Peamount claimed a much-deserved Women’s Premier Division crown. Having fallen short in their quest to secure All-Ireland glory with the Banner as team-mates, Ryan was delighted that both she and Moloney capped off the year so memorably in opposite camps.
“It’s funny, we’re probably each other’s biggest supporters. We both obviously want each other to do well. When we had Peamount in the cup, it was on in Athlone and she would have called to my house before the match just because she was around Athlone early!,” Ryan recalled of their quarter-final showdown in the Women’s FAI Cup.
“We still are the best of friends off the field, but we’re obviously ultra-competitors then when we play against each other. It’s nice to have that relationship there, where you have someone who is going through the same journey as you. For both of us to get silverware after losing in Croke Park, it was probably that little bit extra special for both of us as well.”
Whereas Ryan only took up League of Ireland football in 2021 after joining an Athlone side that was still very much in its infancy, her senior inter-county debut with Clare was as far back as 2010. The Banner County had claimed an All-Ireland intermediate title the year before and with Ryan lining out at left corner-back, they ran eventual champions Dublin to six points in a quarter-final clash at the end of their first season back in senior championship football.
A last-eight defeat followed against Galway two years later, but the Munster side were ultimately relegated from the TG4 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship in 2014. By the time Clare booked their spot in the 2016 All-Ireland IFC final against Kildare, Ryan was captaining the side from full-back.
That game ended in an agonising one-point reversal to the Lilywhites and the same margin separated the teams in this year’s second-tier finale (2-11 to 2-10). Despite coming out on the wrong side of the final result, Ryan was still glad to be back in an All-Ireland showpiece with Clare after a seven-year wait.
“I always say to the girls ‘we lost the All-Ireland, but we had such a great journey to get there’. Our families, our friends, everyone got enjoyment out of the journey that we went on as a group. We didn’t get the result we wanted on the day, but in a big game it is a 50/50 and you’ve to hope you come out on top.
“I love Gaelic football. It was probably my first sport that I really tried to push on in. I really love being a part of that group and getting to know the girls. There’s a difference in a sense that when you’re playing with Clare, you’re playing with girls from your county where you grew up and you probably went to school with them and played with their cousins.”
While Ryan had to juggle her commitments to Clare and Athlone Town as this year went on, it wasn’t until after the completion of their Lidl National Football League Division 3 campaign that she properly linked up with the former for 2023. This was partly due to her busy schedule as a Science Lecturer in TUS Athlone’s Sports & Health Department.
This may also lead to a delayed return to Gaelic football in 2024, though she will have a clearer picture of how next year will unfold after she sits down in the next few weeks with her Clare manager Wayne Freeman and Athlone boss Ciaran Kilduff – both of whom are, coincidentally, natives of Kildare.
“I imagine with work and everything it will be tough to be travelling to Clare for the league. Just with the crossover of the way my job is, I work very heavily on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday at the start of the year. So it would make it too tough to be doing both.
“We’ll be starting pre-season early with Athlone as well. There’s a lot of conversations to be had in the next few weeks. I’ve been ignoring it for the last while after winning (the FAI Cup), but I do have to meet with Athlone and with the Clare management in the next few weeks. Sort out a plan for where we’re going from here.”
Although she has made significant waves with Athlone in recent years, the LGFA remains a major passion for Ryan, who won her 14th county title with Banner Ladies in October. Since February 2022, she has been an ambassador for the Glenveagh Homes Gaelic4Girls programme - a 10-week initiative that incorporates coaching sessions with fun non-competitive blitzes aimed at increasing participation in Ladies Gaelic Football.
“It’s really, really enjoyable being part of that. Some of the stuff in it, I really would believe in. Keeping girls involved in sport, but also developing within your own community. There’s nothing nicer than club football and the relationship you can build within a community by just going out and training with your club,” Ryan added.
“I always say, it doesn’t matter what level you want to play at, to be involved with a team makes everything a little bit easier. I know myself, when hard times came when my Nana passed away, my club girls were the ones that got me through it.
“I know they’re a very young group, the Gaelic4Girls, but it’s really nice to get them out playing and actually just meeting the other people from where they’re from.”Tweet