By Daire Walsh
It might be their first time to face each other in the competition, but there will still be some sense of familiarity when Michelle Davoren and Kilmacud Crokes face defending champions Kilkerrin-Clonberne in the currentaccount.ie All-Ireland Senior Club Championship semi-final at Parnell Park tomorrow afternoon (throw-in 2pm).
Aside from the connection that Galway men’s footballer Shane Walsh has to both clubs – his sister Aisling won an All-Ireland senior title with Kilkerrin just under a year before he claimed the male equivalent in the colours of his adopted Kilmacud – the Dublin side have welcomed a selection of players from their western counterparts to training sessions throughout this year.
While she acknowledges this might seem strange now that both teams are set to lock horns, Davoren believes it is only right to keep the door open for any outside players who are looking to maintain their fitness levels during the season.
“We would have had a couple of players that trained once or twice as the year went on. Siobhan Divilly being one of them. We’d always have our door open to whoever needs to come down and train. We’re a big enough club that we can say that we should be doing that to an extent, when people need to get the training in,” Davoren explained.
“I think that’s the spirit of the GAA at the end of the day, it’s letting people in and welcoming them like they’re your team. Certainly we would have had a couple of drop-in visits from Kilkerrin players, which is funny now in hindsight, but that’s how it goes.”
Having been part of a side that lost out in the 2019 and 2020 finals to the formidable Foxrock/Cabinteely, Davoren finally tasted success in the Go Ahead Dublin Senior Football Championship with Crokes in 2022. This breakthrough triumph against Thomas Davis was followed up by a Leinster Senior Club final victory over Wicklow’s Tinahely, before their season was ultimately cut short in the last-four of the All-Ireland series by Monaghan and Ulster champions Donaghmoyne.
Yet in defending their county and provincial crowns in 2023, Crokes have proven that last year was far from a once-off. Even though they will encounter the toughest test imaginable from back-to-back All-Ireland winners Kilkerrin tomorrow, Davoren believes there has been a different feeling amongst the Crokes squad throughout the current club calendar.
“I was remembering the other day, this time last year. I guess it felt all like bonus territory once we got past Dublin, because that was our first Dublin victory obviously. Then once we got to Leinster it was kind of like ‘Jesus, we could do anything here’. This year it has obviously been a slightly different journey than it was last year.
“It’s not the same newness to it, which is good in a way. Kilkerrin have shown time and time again that they’re the best in Ireland. Two years in-a-row anyway, if not for years previous to that. You want to go out and play the best teams every week at club football and we just get an opportunity to do that this weekend.”
When you look through this current Kilmacud set-up, there are a remarkable number of connections to the men’s teams that won All-Ireland senior club titles in both 1995 and 2009.
Along with John Sweeney and Frank Rutledge — fathers of current ladies footballers Emer Sweeney and Eabha Rutledge — manager Paddy O'Donoghue and selector Peter Ward were part of the Crokes squad that defeated Bellaghy in '95. O'Donoghue's own daughter Sinead is also a member of the panel for tomorrow's game.
Whereas Dublin footballer Lauren Magee’s father Johnny and uncle Darren featured on the Crokes team that overcame Crossmaglen on St Patrick's Day in '09, Davoren’s brother Mark was selected at full-forward for that game and scored a crucial goal in an eventual 1-9 to 0-7 victory. Given she has ended up playing in the same position, it is unsurprising that Michelle hails her elder sibling for having a major influence on her career.
“Mark was a fantastic footballer and I learnt an awful lot from him, having played the same position as he played or still playing it now! I think there’s that lovely aspect to Kilmacud in a way. We have so many people from the ’95 club All-Ireland team and then we have the legacy of the 2009 group as well.
“We’ve been touched in a lot of different ways. I’m fortunate enough that Mark played to an extremely high level for a long time. I grew up watching him and hopefully have done him justice to a certain extent.”
Like her brother – who unfortunately suffered an ACL injury against Meath in the 2009 Leinster Championship – Davoren has represented Dublin at the senior inter-county grade. A substitute when the Jackies lost to Cork in the All-Ireland SFC showpiece of 2014, she was also in the match day panel when Dublin fell short to Meath in the Brendan Martin Cup final two years ago.
Although lining out for the Metropolitans again in the future is appealing, Davoren has a very busy life away from the GAA field. Having previously worked for the Green Party in a couple of different roles, the UCD graduate joined the sports team of public relations firm Wilson Hartnell earlier this year and has been kept on her toes ever since.
“I was in politics in some shape or another for the last five years. I was working for a politician and then worked in the press team (for the Green Party). I have a strange habit of going for fast-paced jobs, but it was excellent,” Davoren added.
“The variety that I might have expected before working here (Wilson Hartnell) is totally different to what it is in actuality. It’s so comprehensive and it’s to do with so many different aspects of the games. There’s always something new, so you’ll never get tired anyway. It’s a really busy time with work and it can take you anywhere.
“When you come from a club like Kilmacud, we’re all such good friends and we have been for a long time, and you can cap it off with a bit of success to boot through Dublin. You get your fill from Kilmacud and your club football there. I’m happy out for the moment, but any day that you can put on a Dublin jersey is going to be a proud day.”Tweet