The dawn of a new century saw the creation of a new game in the club. Just one hundred years after Gaelic games were first played in Downpatrick, the RGU embraced the quickest developing section allied to the association, and have encouraged the formation of a Ladies Football team. Ladies Football is now the fastest growing game in Gaelic circles and the number of girls participating have quadrupled within the last ten years. It has outstripped camogie in popularity.
Its introduction in Downpatrick can be attributed to the formidable duo of Michelle Clancey and Paul Kelly. Michelle, a schoolteacher by profession is also a qualified coach, and an avid supporter of all things Gaelic. During her informative years spent in her native Clare, Michelle acquired a love for Gaelic games, and was a talented and skilful participant. Since moving to Downpatrick Michelle has retained her enthusiasm and has been actively involved in coaching both in school and at club level. In 2000 Michelle was coach to the Down Junior All-Ireland wining team. But her most significant contribution to date was the establishment of a Ladies Football team, under her jurisdiction.
Michelle was ably assisted by Paul Kelly, with whom she set up an excellent working relationship. Bank official, Paul not only tended to the organisation and administrative aspect of running a football team, but also gave Michelle invaluable support with her coaching duties.
In January 1997, a group of young ladies under the watchful eye of Michelle Clancey embarked on a venture, which was of historical significance in the annals of the RGU. For the first time since its foundation, the RGU had a ladies football team.
A number of keen, enthusiastic young ladies enrolled for training that January. While they had little experience of the game, they had positive attitudes, were extremely well motivated and above all they were keen to learn. Many of them had innate abilities and before long they had acquired the basic skills. Under the expert guidance of their coaches, these recruits were gradually moulded into a team, and within a short time they were competing in friendly games against Castlewellan and Loughinisland. Success was instant, for they won the first tournament they competed in at Ballynoe.
The Road to Success
The Clancey/Kelly combo opened the 99 season in determined fashion. Their training programme went very well and their motivated team responded by winning both junior league and championship. In the championship final they defeated Kilclief in a well-contested game at Pairc Esler. The season ended on a high when they gained their third medal in the respected Saval Tournament. In this tournament they were narrowly beaten by All-Ireland club semi-finalists, Iveagh Bosco.
Championship success also meant that the RGU had qualified for the Ulster Junior Club championship. Unfortunately their run of success ended here, for on a glorious sunny day they were defeated by the narrowest of margins by Tyrone champions, Loughmacrory.
The achievements of the team were soon recognised by the County for three of the team Giles McConville, Karen McKeown and Bronagh McCurry were selected for the Down U16 team, who were also managed by Paul and Michelle. Five of the team also gained places on the Down senior squad – Bronagh McCurry, Karen McKeown, Louise Kelly, Olivia Gilchrist and Maeve McConville..
Keeping up the momentum
Junior league and championship winners inevitably meant promotion to the intermediate league in the 2000 season. During the season the RGU acquitted themselves with credit, and while victories may have eluded the, the experience they have gained will prove invaluable for 2001.
With such dedicated and influential personnel at the helm, ladies football within the RGU will grow form strength to strength.
In this short history, let us always remember the RGU squad who brought honour to themselves, club and county, in creating history in our time.
The ladies game continues to grow in strength and in 2001 the RGU ladies team won the intermediate league, and were runners up in the intermediate championship.