By Gerard Mulreaney (@gerardmulreaney)
History will be made on Sunday when Carlow/Kilkenny take to the pitch for the first time as they take on DLR Waves in their Women’s National U17 League clash at Marley Park. It follows the successful transition of their U15 and U17 boys teams in the SSE Airtricity League.
Manager of Carlow/Kilkenny is Gemma Murphy. Gemma, who’s currently studying Sports Science at IT Carlow, has been coaching for over ten years after a struggle with an unexplained knee injury put paid to her playing career.
Gemma said: “I got involved with Carlow/Kilkenny with the under 17 boys team last season. I met Mark Ross, the manager then, while I was doing my C licence in Wexford. He asked me if I wanted to come in and give him a hand, so I did. After that I knew I was going to get involved with the girls. I knew the club were planning on bringing in a girls team, and I thought I was going to be one of the coaches. I didn’t think I was going to be the manager. They had already got a couple of other managers in line, but they fell through and I stepped up.
Carlow/Kilkenny were supposed to kick off their season last week, with a home tie against Treaty United, but because of the lockdown enforced by an outbreak of Covid-19 in the Kildare, Offaly and Laois area, that game was postponed.
Murphy says that her side is ready to go, albeit missing some players:
“Everyone’s excited, we’re all dying to get on the pitch. It’s been a long wait for everyone. We have some mixed feelings because we’re missing a few players because of the lockdown in Kildare and Laois, so as exciting as it is for everyone, you still can’t help but feel for the girls who are going to miss the first game. It’s a big deal for the club. It’s a big deal for the team and we’re not all going to be there.
“Yeah, it’s our first season. We’ve got a couple of girls here that have played national league before so not everyone is a newcomer. To be honest, I don’t really know exactly what I’m expecting. We had set ourselves goals and plans before the lockdown. Then we came back, and we’ve got players in Kildare and Laois that are under restrictions, so it’s kind of hard to plan when you don’t really know what’s happening from week to week. Our hopes are to go out and compete. We’ve had a couple of games pre-season and we performed very well. You could see the improvements each week. We’re hoping to go out and do our best.”
Murphy is well aware that the U17 league is all about developing players and is looking forward tot he challenge that is ahead:
“A successful season for me won’t be defined by results. We’ve got quite a young squad. We want them girls to develop, we want them to improve and we want to see that each week on the pitch. You know, they’re putting in the work at training and they put in the work in pre-season and as long as they keep performing the way I know they can, and they continue to get better, I’ll be happy. We’re building girls football within the club now, this is the first year so it’s good that we don’t necessarily have a bar that we have to meet but I want the girls to set the bar this year so that they have something to reach for next year.
“We have a good squad. There’s plenty of depth there. I wouldn’t say there’s any star player that we should be all on the lookout for. All of the girls have great potential. The younger girls are improving so much each week. The older girls that have played at this level before, you can see that they’re more experienced when they’re on the pitch but the other girls aren’t far behind them. They’re all putting in the hard work and hopefully they’ll all reap the rewards.”
The only downside to the Carlow/Kilkenny U17 team is that they’ve currently no U19 or Senior team at the moment, something Murphy hopes will change in the near future: “It’s very unfortunate for the older guards that there is nothing for them for next year. Hopefully an under 19 league will be introduced and having experience at under 17’s will give them a chance to get into an under 19 squad somewhere else. We want them to be able to play football at the highest level, whether it’s with us or somewhere else. There’s definitely plans in the pipeline for a women’s team, or an under 19 team if that league comes through. It’s just that these things take time. We started with the 15’s boys and worked up to 17’s and got to 17’s girls, there’s plans for an U19’s boys so hopefully in the next couple of years there’s definitely be a pathway there for everyone.”
So what are her coaching ambitions:
“When I first started coaching, I didn’t really have any ambitions. I just love football, and I couldn’t play anymore so I wanted to still be involved. I think if someone told me that I’d be where I am now, I would have laughed at them. I never really had any ambitions to coach. I never thought that it would have been something I’d pursue the way I am now. I genuinely just did it for the love of the game. Getting involved with the boys last year, seeing how competitive it is, seeing how good the young players that we have are, and just being able to be a part of that has been absolutely brilliant. I’d love to do well with Carlow/Kilkenny. I’d love to be involved for the next couple of years and if we get an under 19’s, or get a Senior Women’s team, push on with them. At the moment, I’m just happy where I am and I’m glad I got the opportunity to be here.”
Would she encourage other young girls to get involved in a coaching career:
“I’d definitely encourage guys to get involved in coaching, especially from a young age. Going down the coaching pathway, you start to pick things off about the game that you’d never really see as a player. If you’re doing that, at an early age, you’re preparing yourself, and you’re seeing what’s expected of you from the coach so it’s only going to help you improve as a player. And then it gives you a backup plan if your playing career doesn’t go the way you want it to go. If you don’t make the Women’s National League after under 17’s but you still want to be involved. You might be unhappy with club football, or you get a bad injury. You know, it’s the same reasons for guys as it is for boys get involved in coaching. There’s so many benefits to it. I think they should all do it. Girls, boys should all start coaching at a young level if they want to play at a high level too.”
Photo Credits: Carlow/Kilkenny FC, Gemma Murphy