While it took the Camogie Association just 18 years to follow suit of the Cumann Luthchleas Gael’s foundation in 1884, an astonishing 90 years surpassed before the Cumann Peil Gael na mBan came into existence.
From the early days of seven a side tournaments, fairground matches and originating conferences, Tullamore native Brendan Martin had an establishing role in the LGFA and will remain honoured for the rest of time with the Senior cup in his name.
“We were almost ridiculed at the beginning. People thought we were crazy talking of young girls playing this very rough men’s game with physical contact” Martin says.
Having played football at underage level and been a member of the Pipers band, the Offaly man was well aclimatised to gaelic games norms but didn’t allow that to stop him and his peers in the face of adversity.
“I joined the Offaly association in Dublin where they had a football team and I used to go to the Phoenix park community practice. Before long the girls started coming up then they wanted to be trained so we took on the job and taught them a few of the skills and word spread fairly quickly.”
His brother’s holiday home connections in Stradbally Co. Laois proved advantageous as news trickled down that women’s football was in action there too.
June 1973 saw the two Midlands outfits come to clash and given that it was such a success Martin vowed it must be replicated elsewhere. With much delight a similar occurrence took place in The Kingdom, resulting in what some designate as the first unofficial All Ireland.
“We heard Kerry were also training girls and we invited up the team up to Tullamore for a game” he says.
“We put them all up in people’s homes because we didn’t have any money, so we did it a bit on the cheap! Offaly and Kerry then played in the August bank holiday of 1973.”
The next year yielded rapid growth in informal intercounty teams and also saw the conclusive infrastructure evolve that we now know as the LGFA.
“I chose Hayes’s hotel in Thurles where the Cumann Luthchleas Gael was founded 90 years previously. Eight counties were represented there; Offaly, Roscommon, Laois, Galway, Kerry, Cork, Waterford and Tipperary.”
“It was a very conscious decision to go there and we thought that a very suitable place for the ladies to start.”
While offering housing to traveling teams may have been done at a tight cost, admittedly the now 83-year-old had a “good few bob” at the time being “single and in the building business”, so when Offaly were to face Tipperary in the inaugural senior final, he felt something had to be done.
“The Offaly ladies didn’t have much nor did the Central Council that we had set up and there was very little money about” says Martin.
“When it was decided we needed a cup, I went and bought one in John J Cookes in Fownes street in Dublin.”
“That’s where the original cup came from and it’s now in Croke Park museum where it went on the 25th anniversary. I replaced it with a bigger cup then after that, this time made of solid silver and that has been with the Dublin girls for the last four years.”
Involved in the management of The Faithful County side that year, the purchase didn’t end up coming home with the buyer’s team as Tipperary emerged triumphant as the first LGFA All Ireland winners at the fixture in Durrow County Laois on the 13th October 1974, the end scoreline 2-3 to 2-2.
The inscription of the trophy came over the ensuing years and unbeknownst to the Midlands man he was to be commemorated immortally for his strives in the institution.
“I didn’t ever ask for it” he says smiling.
“A friend of mine in Portarlington who happened to be a silversmith was asked one day would he inscribe it.”
“The girls I think wanted it called that as well and they got it done themselves.”
Anxious to add that his home county of Offaly did in fact go on to “compete in five of the first All Ireland’s in the early days, winning two”, Martin, who now lives in Co. Kildare, rejoices that you “can’t ever deny your roots.”
Cheerful too in the “massive and unbelievable” participation and eyes on the code in 2021 he sees the development of the organisation as a “huge credit to the girls who played, the mentors, the county boards and to everybody at the headquarters in Croke Park.”
“Under the guidance of Micheal Naughton the current president and Helen O’Rourke the CEO and their wonderful staff in Croke Park, they’ve brought it from strength to strength.”
Still in attendance every year on finals day, this Sunday marks another “great family occasion” for the Martins but Brendan isn’t one to disclose his tips as to who will hoist the cup in his name next.
“I mean teams have a spell at the top. Let’s say the likes of Cork did remarkably well for years before that Dublin side and Kerry before them, as did Waterford before them.”
“It’s not undoable to beat these teams, others mustn’t lose hope” he says. “As long as it’s a good free flowing game of football” it appears to be a victory for women’s sport.
Here they are! 👀 The Dublin and Meath kits, and the match ball, have arrived ahead of Sunday’s TG4 All-Ireland Senior Championship Final at Croke Park! The Brendan Martin Cup will be presented to the winning captain! #ProperFan 🤩 🏆— Ladies Football (@LadiesFootball) September 3, 2021
@dublinladiesg @meathladiesMLGF pic.twitter.com/nBgxn92FXZ
The LGFA Finals take place on Sunday.
Junior 11:45 Antrim Vs Wicklow
Intermediate 1:45 Westmeath Vs Wexford
Senior 4:15 Dublin Vs Meath